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Why the All Blacks need to stick with ‘all-time great’ Richie Mo’unga

By Finn Morton
Damian McKenzie of the All Blacks celebrates with team mate Richie Mo'unga after scoring a try during the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Eden Park on August 07, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The All Blacks dropped a selection bombshell ahead of their opening Test of the year by giving Damian McKenzie the first opportunity to shine in the No. 10 jersey.

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After a shaky start against Los Pumas in Mendoza – which saw Pablo Matera charge down a McKenzie inside 30 seconds – the playmaker made amends as the All Blacks’ chief playmaker.

With three try assists and a few successful shots at goal as well, McKenzie had stolen the show during New Zealand’s comfortable 12-41 win.

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But a week is a long time in Test rugby.

As expected, Crusaders pivot Richie Mo’unga returned to the starting lineup for the All Blacks’ crunch clash with the Springboks in Auckland.

But McKenzie was left out completely.

With Will Jordan and Beauden Barrett in the starting lineup, the All Blacks couldn’t even find a place for McKenzie on the bench.

In the absence of the Chiefs playmaker, Mo’unga went on to shine against the defending world champions. It was one of the 29-year-old’s best performances in the black jersey.

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Finally, Mo’unga looked settled within the Test arena.

Looking ahead to the All Blacks’ opening Bledisloe Cup clash with the Wallabies in Melbourne and beyond, broadcaster James McOnie has called on selectors to avoid repeating unwanted history.

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“If you look at history, have we done something maybe in the last World Cup when Beauden Barrett had just been named World Player of the Year twice, and was just starting to crack the code as a number 10 – and then we moved him,” McOnie said on Weekend Sport with Jason Pine.

“We don’t want to do that again. Richie Mo’unga has just won seven Super Rugby titles in a row, and had just got used to being a Test rugby player, why shift him now?

“Even though you know how much I love Damian, don’t forget you’ve got this absolute gem and all-time great in your midst and you wouldn’t want to waste his talents.”

Will Jordan was another player who impressed against the Springboks, with the outside back returning to Test rugby for the first time in almost 300 days last weekend.

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Jordan showed some individual brilliance to set up veteran Aaron Smith for the All Blacks’ opening try of the night inside the opening five minutes.

But generally speaking, whenever Jordan got his hands on the ball, the winger looked dangerous.

“Someone was saying he’s Ben Smith with jet shoes,” he added. “He’s definitely star quality but his instincts are just so onto it.

“I like how he roams around as well, I love a winger who’s just got the number on his back but decides to see the space and exploit it.

“That’s a no-brainer as well, so you can lock him in somewhere in that back three.”

Fullback Beauden Barrett, who impressed in the opening Rugby Championship fixture against Los Pumas, also held his own against a star-studded Springboks side.

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Barrett came under fire during Super Rugby Pacific following a run of uncharacteristically poor performances.

Some even doubted whether the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year should be picked for the All Blacks. But Barrett continued to silence any and all doubters on Saturday.

“Beauden Barrett, just the confidence to use those elite skills.

“I feel like he just needed maybe a game like that to remind himself how good he is.”

The All Blacks will look to lock up The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup when they take on the Wallabies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground later this month.

New Zealand will return to Aotearoa for the reserve fixture in Dunedin the following weekend. That’s their second and final Test on home soil before jetting off to the Rugby World Cup in France.

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Comments

10 Comments
F
Forward pass 359 days ago

All time great????? What has he ever done at test level? Failed at the WC last time out and has roughly 50 tests. Seriously Finn you do excel at mediocre so I see why you think Mounga is an "All time great"

N
Northandsouth 359 days ago

We're finally getting the pieces in the right place. Mo'unga and DMac scrap for 10 or don't start. BB focuses on being a strong 15. Jordie beasts it at 12 and is third playmaker. Jordan starts at 14 but roams within the system. All can do things in other positions but we've finally got the mix humming where everyone can show their best, and have their weaknesses managed: Jordie still holds on too much, Will is still a mediocre one-on-one tackler, etc. Jordan can try 15 next year if it suits the new regime.

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