The whispers around the All Blacks starting flyhalf position, for the defence of their World Cup title, are beginning to grow more boisterous with each passing Super Rugby game week. And whilst scribes, pundits and fans alike are growing in number for the usurpation of Barrett for Mo’unga – forget one thing; the only opinion of any importance and significance, is that of head coach Steve Hansen and his staff.
Barrett is the incumbent and twice World Rugby player of the year, he’s played over 70 Tests and bided his time on the bench under the tutelage of the All Blacks greatest flyhalf – Dan Carter. No player in world rugby has the match play instincts of Barrett; his vision, speed and unpredictability can’t be coached. It’s a natural gift he has fostered and cultivated over time in the All Blacks environment. He is also the most analysed player in the world rugby due to his remarkable talents with ball in hand.
Trust being the fragile commodity it is, can only be built over time. Barrett has earned that by declining multiple European mega money deals, to rather play for the black jersey. Biding his time riding the pine, when in scandalous form in the early days of his career, which ironically is the position he finds himself in now, just on the other side of it.
Mo’unga has been superb in the last two seasons. His game management, for such a young player, is conceivably better than Barretts’ overall. His goal kicking has been reliable. He’s in prime position to learn the art of flyhalf play from someone as mercurial as Barrett, whose own goal kicking routinely comes into question after missing a few. It must always be top of the mind that Mo’unga does drive behind a “Rolls Royce pack”. Thus the argument can be made that most flyhalves within Super Rugby, would perform admirably, playing behind the Crusaders forwards. Barrett however, plays behind the Hurricanes Alfa Romeo like pack. When they’re going forward, it’s a magical ride, but far too often, they’re in the chop-shop needing constant repairs.
The Crusaders certainly looked directionless, when Mo’unga was missing from their loss against the Waratahs a few weeks ago. A feather in the cap to the young man and his growing importance and influence, in the red and black environment. Super Rugby however, is not Test match rugby; the speed of the game is two completely different animals. Super Rugby you have time on the ball, Test match rugby there is none. The form of senior All Blacks in the early rounds are nothing to be concerned about, as Hansen’s history of selection shows. Ma’a Nonu was mostly a Super Rugby no show, but was immaculate for the All Blacks season after season.
We should do well to remember history, when Carter’s ability was severely questioned in the lead up to 2015 by the press to Hansen. Due to the form of the pretender at the time, in Beauden Barrett, Carter went on to win Player of the Year and a second World Cup title. Barrett came off the bench to make his usual significant impact and score a try in the final. Mo’unga is also, yet to be truly tested and put under the pump in a Test match environment. Of course, he will only get that opportunity when he starts; and here’s the crux, he will, when the time is right. Hansen has overseen the All Blacks most consistently successful era; the man knows what he is doing. He will not be budged or swayed by popular opinion and rhetoric. No player is thrown in at the deep end initially; they are given time to become comfortable in the boiling cauldron of Test match rugby so that their natural talents can be exposed and come to fruition at a later stage.
Hansen has heard it all before about his players being out of form and the consequences thereof; player selection. He knows all too well he has the luxury, which most nations’ coaches would give their arm and leg for, Yellow Lamborghini to start, and when he needs a Red Ferrari to call upon in his garage- he can… spoilt for choice really.
Written By Brandon Going