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‘Doubt creeps in’: Why Richie Mo’unga is ‘ready to own’ All Blacks role

By Finn Morton
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 28: Richie Mo'unga looks on during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Mt Smart Stadium on June 28, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

After battling “doubt” and a lack of confidence during his Test career, flyhalf Richie Mo’unga believes he’s “ready to own” the responsibility of being the All Blacks’ chief playmaker.

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Mo’unga will go down in history as one of the greatest players to have ever graced the field in Super Rugby. With seven titles to his name, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

But Mo’unga’s success and dominance in Super Rugby hasn’t quite translated to the international game. The step up has been a challenge – and now rugby fans know why.

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Ahead of New Zealand’s opening Test match of the year, Mo’unga opened up about the “demands” of being the first-choice No. 10 for the All Blacks.

“I guess the biggest learnings would be that I’m more than capable to play for the All Blacks,” Mo’unga told reporters on Tuesday.

“You come in, it’s high-pressure stuff and doubt creeps in.

“Playing over the years, I’ve just become more comfortable with what I bring to the table and that I’m well capable.

“Also being a leader of this environment was hard to begin with. Wearing the 10 jersey and being a pivot in the All Blacks demands that you are a leader and I think when I first came in I wasn’t ready for that or I didn’t have the confidence.

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“But I think I’m, more than ever, ready to own that role and take charge if the team needs me to take charge, and just really understand what our team is trying to achieve so I can help the team do that.”

Last month’s Super Rugby Pacific Final in Hamilton saw two of the nation’s leading options at flyhalf go head-to-head.

With Super Rugby glory on the line, Richie Mo’unga and the Crusaders flew north to take on Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs.

McKenzie, who returned to the Chiefs this season after a sabbatical in Japan, had been nothing short of sensational up until that point.

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The Chiefs had only lost one match, and McKenzie had played a central role in their success. While their fairytale finish to the season wasn’t meant to be, the 40-Test All Black had made his mark.

Depending on who you ask, some rugby fans and pundits want McKenzie to start in the No. 10 jersey for the All Black.

But Mo’unga is the incumbent, and ultimately led his side to Super Rugby glory once again – and Test centurion Beauden Barrett is another world-class option for Ian Foster and the All Blacks selectors.

McKenzie and Barrett, like Mo’unga, would certainly jump at the opportunity to make the No. 10 jersey their own in the All Blacks. In a sense, they’re competitors as well as teammates.

“(We’re) In an environment where it’s high performance and you want to push each other and I think we all demand that of each other,” Mo’unga added.

“We wouldn’t be doing the team any justice or we wouldn’t be doing each other right if we weren’t really trying and competing.

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“When you know you’ve done that, it’s out of your hands and you’re happy for whatever decision the coaches have made.

“You might have a little sulk if you don’t get the jersey and then it’s over, and then you focus on what next? What’s best for the team? What does the team need me to do?”

The All Blacks will run out for their first Test match of 2023 this weekend when they take on Los Pumas in Mendoza, Argentina on Sunday morning (NZST).

Mo’unga is expecting plenty of “passion” from the home crowd, which he described as being “very football-like.”

“Probably from experience, the passion that the Argentinians have and the atmosphere, it’s very football-like.

“Especially playing here in Mendoza, a rugby city here in Argentina, just very passionate and the crowd can be very hostile at times and they’re just rooting their team on.

“I think that’s what we’re going to experience and you can get caught out if you haven’t played here before or understand what it means to them to play in a city like Mendoza against the All Blacks.”

Los Pumas will be full of confidence ahead of the Test, with Argentina claiming an unforgettable win over the All Blacks in Christchurch last August.

The match kicks off at 7.10 am NZST on Sunday morning.

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William 1 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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