Why the All Blacks and Wallabies have No 10s that aren't yet firing
While Richie Mo’unga has been one of the All Blacks‘ best this season, both the New Zealand and Australian national sides share something in common: first fives that aren’t necessarily hitting their stride at this stage of the year.
For the All Blacks, two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett has played second-fiddle to Mo’unga, despite his years of experience, while young Wallabies playmaker Noah Lolesio has run hot and cold in the Bledisloe Cup series.
Barrett, of course, only returned from a stint in Japan near the end of the Super Rugby season. Alongside Brodie Retallick, he was rushed straight back into the national set-up but has made just one starting appearance in the five games to date. Retallick, on the other hand, is quickly getting back to his best – but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to Crusaders centurion Bryn Hall.
“I think it’s hard because I think Brodie’s had the chance to be able to start,” said Hall on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod when comparing NZ’s two returning players. “Beaudy’s had one start and Brodie’s had a couple so I think being able to have the time in the saddle with Brodie, to be able to play and iron out a few things has probably been a little bit more valuable.”
“I don’t think it’s taking time to come back, I just think the opportunities probably haven’t come,” he added. “It’s the difference [between] having 15, 20 minutes off the bench [compared] with Brodie starting the last two test matches.”
While Lolesio has been firmly entrenched as the Wallabies starting No 10 for their five matches this year, including a three-match series with France, the 21-year-old is still inexperienced at the highest level of the game, only making his test debut last year.
As such, former All Black James Parsons understandably expects the Wallabies to stick with their current playmaker.
“Absolutely. He’s shown quality beyond his years since coming into the Super Rugby comp,” said Parsons on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “I think you just need that time.”
In some ways, Lolesio’s circumstances were similar to Barrett’s with the All Blacks, Parsons suggested.
“Don’t underestimate stringing games together and how that can bring your form back,” he said. “Compare it to the opportunities Beaudie’s had, 15, 20 minutes here.
“I think it’d be unfair to say someone like him isn’t playing well because he’s doing his role of what he’s been given and the opportunities he’s been given. I think the ability to just keep Noah going from game to game, he is only going to get stronger and stronger.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 19, 2021
Hall also backed the call to stick with the young flyhalf.
“Especially as an inside back, time in the saddle [is huge],” he said. “Being able iron things out, figure things out.
“Obviously this is a little bit different but you look at Richie Mo’unga, how many tests has he played? He’s starting to get into a somewhat rich vein of form, being able to have the experience of being in big games. That World Cup series was invaluable for him. You look at it probably now, was he ready for it? But then that kind of experience brings you to where you are now.”
Parsons further highlighted that a player’s performance is as much about the men around them as it is their individual ability and form.
“We’re talking about the individual here but there’s so much more that goes into it for that position to be successful,” he said.
“Let’s use Richie as an example. He’s got his best mate outside him at the moment. He feels comfortable, he looks comfortable. He’s running with a lot of confidence. Rieko [Ioane] is a big talker at centre, he’s going to give you a lot of comms. Sevu [Reece] just looks like he wants the ball and he’s excited all the time so you’re going to get a lot of comms from him. Will Jordan is a familiar voice to him and Damian [McKenzie] is that dual-pivot role so he’s surrounded by a lot of comms, a lot of experience, a lot of guys that know what they’re doing and feeding that in to make his job easier, on the back of a forward pack that’s going really well as well.
“Noah the week before, he had two young guys [outside him] in [Len] Ikitau and [Hunter] Paisami, and they’re learning and growing and they probably don’t have that ability to communicate and control the game and take the pressure off and understand. I think that’s why [Matt] To’omua came back in.”
The All Blacks and Wallabies are due to square off once more next weekend and both Barrett and Lolesio will be looking to earn some more minutes for their respective sides – whether that’s starting or on the bench – to help them build into the long seasons ahead.
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