The All Blacks believe Richie Mo‘unga‘s challenge could send Beauden Barrett to a new level based on the performance of the No10 against the Wallabies in Sydney.
Barrett was steady rather than spectacular in the first half at ANZ Stadium but flourished after the break as he set about ripping the Australians to shreds in the 38-13 victory.
His try came after he capitalised on a mistake by Wallabies wing Dane Haylett-Petty and kicked the ball ahead three times, once with his left foot and twice with his right under extreme pressure from halfback Will Genia, and it was classic Barrett, who has an almost supernatural ability to make the ball bounce as he wants.
It was the All Blacks‘ third try, pushed the team to a 19-6 lead, and effectively killed off the Wallabies‘ hopes of a comeback. Elsewhere, Barrett‘s ability to see space and send his teammates on their own marauding missions kept the Wallabies on high alert for virtually the entire second half.
He said afterwards he doesn‘t take any notice of media reports – the inference being he wasn‘t aware of the commentary for Crusaders star Mo‘unga to replace him – but a day later coach Steve Hansen suggested the 27-year-old had in fact been under external pressure to perform.
“First of all he showed us he‘s human and he probably felt a bit of that pressure,” Hansen said. “But more importantly he showed us he can cope with it. The more the game went on the better he went and his confidence grew.
“We know he‘s a world class player and we‘ve got a lot of faith in him. We‘re really lucky we‘ve got two other guys; Richie, yes he is going to be a really good All Black and so is young [Damian] McKenzie. In that position we‘re sitting pretty good. It‘s about the three of them getting used to working together and making themselves better because of that and not being hindered by it.”
The key to all of this is communication from the All Blacks coaches and decision-making based on honesty and integrity. There is little doubt that it is working in the midfield, where Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jack Goodhue and Ngani Laumape all seem to have a close and mutually beneficial relationship, and so it must be at first-five, perhaps the most important position on the field.
They are usually among the most high-profile players in any team, and as Hansen said, they often aren‘t used to being challenged.
“I think back to Dan [Carter] when some of those boys, Crudes [Aaron Cruden] and so on, were starting to put pressure on him… because they‘re superstars they‘re not used to having someone tracking them and all of a sudden you‘re looking over your shoulder, ‘wow, what‘s this coming?‘. Once they get that and feel comfortable with that you actually see them go to another level and so we‘re looking forward to seeing Beauds do that.”
Mo‘unga, who ran the water for the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium, will get his chance for a more meaningful role in this Rugby Championship – most likely against Argentina in either Nelson on September 8 or Buenos Aires on September 30. The 24-year-old, who has led the Crusaders to back-to-back titles after his learning his trade from none other than Carter, outplayed Barrett in Super Rugby this year.
But rather than hinder his teammate it is in fact helping him, and the favour will no doubt be repaid this year.