Richie Mo‘unga, the man of the match for the Crusaders in their grand final victory over the Lions and a player rapidly becoming the most talked about in New Zealand rugby because of his talent and ability to influence a game, has opened up on how he has arrived at this point.
It has taken work, and a lot of it. First-five Mo‘unga, now 24, has always had ability – his background in touch rugby giving him the hands and feet to do on the field what few others can.
Last year he led the Crusaders to their first title since 2008 and last night he did it again against the Lions and his performance will again put scrutiny on the selection of the All Blacks No10 for the first Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Sydney on August 18 and beyond.
But what isn‘t seen by most people is the physical and mental preparation it has taken for him to get here.
“It‘s just standards – having real pride in my performance every week and having real pride in doing what I need to do for the team; not just for my own performance but also I know what impact it has on the team‘s performance if I nail that,” Mo‘unga said as the celebrations continued at AMI Stadium. “I have confidence in my ability to do what I need to do.
Richie Mo‘unga breaks away up field. Photo / Photosport.co.nz facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
“I‘d say I‘m more level headed now. I‘ve added maturity to my game. I‘d say I‘m more of a leader, not just with my words but with my actions too. I know if I can lead with my actions it‘s the best way. I‘ve worked hard to get here to this position. It didn‘t just happen – it‘s also up to the faith that Razor [coach Scott Robertson] has in me to lead this team.”
Last weekend Mo‘unga outplayed All Blacks No10 Beauden Barrett, and this time he outplayed Springboks No10 Elton Jantjies in the 37-18 victory. He helped set up the Crusaders‘ first two tries, and kicked all seven of his shots at goal. He was especially influential in the first half as his side went to a 20-6 halftime lead despite having only about 30 per cent possession.
He has pace, is brave under the high ball, and can find space – either in close , or behind the defensive line – where most can‘t see any.
When Carter retired after the All Blacks retained the World Cup in 2015, the Crusaders backed Mo‘unga, a then talented but inexperienced player, to replace him. The faith has been re-paid.
“A lot of it is mental,” said Mo‘unga, adding he worked a lot with assistant coach Brad Mooar in this area. “I‘ve gained a lot of mental toughness during the year and really back my process and how my [training] weeks look and knowing if I get that right then on Saturday I can go out and perform.”
Asked what his No10 did right, Robertson said: “He beat about 20 defenders, he kicked the majority of his goals, he was tough on defence.”
Richie Mo‘unga of the Crusaders makes a break during the Super Rugby Final match between the Crusaders and the Lions at AMI Stadium. Photo / Photosport.co.nz facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Asked whether he had ever coached a flyhalf like Mo‘unga, Robertson, a former Canterbury coach, said: “Dan Carter was all right when he came back for a couple of games for Canterbury, but no, he‘s pretty special.
“What I love about Richie is he‘s brave on defence. That‘s the biggest part of his game. He was probably one of the best touch rugby players in New Zealand – he has great feet and great hands.
“He could kick a ball, he could kick clutch penalties and conversions, but he is brave on ‘D‘ and that‘s what you need to do, you need a whole skillset to play test rugby and he‘s shown he can do it at the highest level in the final of a championship.”
Mo‘unga has played only one test – when he replaced Barrett in the third test against France in Dunedin in June, but he is destined to play many more.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin said of Mo‘unga: “He‘s played so well for the whole season. I think he is the catalyst for this team. His ability to take it up running or taking it deeper – he was just never caught in no-man‘s land. We tried to trap him but he was very good on the night.”
Should Hansen pick Mo‘unga or Barrett as his starting first-five? De Bruin laughed and said: “Yeah I guess that‘s a tough one. Good luck to him on that choice – he knows his game so I‘m sure he‘ll pick the right guy.”
Carter Tweeted his congratulations to Mo‘unga last night.
Hell of a season, Richie. Congrats on winning man of the match, well played
— Dan Carter ()
The image shared was of a young Mo‘unga with Carter following the 2008 Super 14 final. The Crusaders won 20-12 against the Waratahs in what was the last time Christchurch hosted the final.
“It‘s a vivid memory of mine. From that day I‘ve always wanted to be part of a final at home and to do it this Saturday I get to create my dream,” Mo‘unga said yesterday.
At the time the 14-year-old Mo‘unga would have been at Riccarton High School. Five years later he made his debut for Canterbury.