Crusaders in-form flyhalf Richie Mo’unga was named in the All Blacks’s Rugby Championship squad but the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was insistent that his starting flyhalf would be World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett.
Hansen said everything he visited Christchurch the talk was of why Mo’unga should be in the All Blacks team. He added: ‘I walk away thinking we’ve already put him in team. He’s in the squad. He’s 24 years old and he’s played one test match.
‘He’s got competition from the specialist first-five (flyhalf) in Beauden Barrett, who’s played 64 tests, I think it is. He’s been world player of the year twice. Both of them are very good rugby players. Our job is to maximise the talent they’ve got and over time you’ll see Richie get more tests, I’m sure.
‘I think about a bloke before a World Cup we went to and everyone wanted us to drop Dan Carter. But he had one ingredient that the other blokes didn’t have and that was experience. You saw that experience come out in the big moments.
‘We have to build slowly with Richie and build his experience but in the meantime we have got a player in Beauden who has been the best player in the world for the last two years. We won’t be in any rush to shift him.’
Hansen has selected a squad of 33 players, which includes Sonny Bill Williams and Dane Coles. Neither of the two will play in the two August Tests against Australia.
The NZ Herald’s Patrick McKendry reported that the All Blacks selectors have made significant decisions on their make-up of the midfield and loose forward mix, with Hurricanes players Ngani Laumape and Vaea Fifita the casualties in terms of the Rugby Championship squad.
Midfielder Laumape has been included in the squad as cover for the injured Sonny Bill Williams but is unlikely to play; he has been told to work on his communication and combination with his first-five, the inference being that Beauden Barrett, who hasn’t been at his best for the Hurricanes, hasn’t been getting the information he requires from his second-five.
Hansen has named only four midfielders for his squad who will assemble in Christchurch on Thursday to prepare for the first test against Australia in Sydney a week on Saturday. Ryan Crotty is a near guarantee to start in the No12 jersey, with either Anton Lienert-Brown or Jack Goodhue likely as his centre partner.
‘We’ve made a couple of strategic decisions particularly in the loose forwards and midfield,” Hansen said. ‘As you know, we only selected four [midfielders] – in the last team we picked we had five.
‘We’ve got a plan for Ngani, we want him to spend some time with a little less pressure working on his ability to help his first-five control the game. That’s the long-term plan for him, obviously he’s going to be coming in in the short-term to work with us with Sonny’s injury.”
Hansen added: ‘It’s about decision making. Your No10 can’t make all the decisions by himself. He’s got to have other people feeding him information and obviously the closest guy is the No12. And if he’s not doing that as good as you would like then he [No10] isn’t going to make the decisions you would like.
‘It’s no coincidence that one of the better talkers of the game, one who has a good understanding of it, is Ryan Crotty, who Richie [Mo’unga] has playing outside him. With Ngani we just want him to have more voice and learn how to use that… rather than just being out there doing his thing. It’s about seeing the bigger picture.’
All Blacks Rugby Championship squad
Dane Coles (31, Hurricanes / Wellington, 56)
Nathan Harris (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 13)
Codie Taylor (27, Crusaders / Canterbury, 32)
Owen Franks (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 98)
Joe Moody (29, Crusaders /Canterbury, 34)
Tim Perry (30, Crusaders / Tasman, uncapped)
Karl Tu’inukuafe (25, Chiefs / North Harbour, 3)
Ofa Tuungafasi (26, Blues / Auckland, 17)
Scott Barrett (24, Crusaders / Taranaki, 19)
Brodie Retallick (27, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 68)
Samuel Whitelock (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 99)
Sam Cane (26, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 55)
Shannon Frizell (24, Highlanders / Tasman, 1)
Jackson Hemopo (24, Highlanders / Manawatu, 1)
Kieran Read (32, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 109) – Captain
Ardie Savea (24, Hurricanes / Wellington, 25)
Liam Squire (27, Highlanders / Tasman, 17)
Luke Whitelock (27, Highlanders / Canterbury, 5)
TJ Perenara (26, Hurricanes / Wellington, 45)
Aaron Smith (29, Highlanders / Manawatu, 74)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (23, Chiefs / Taranaki, uncapped)
Beauden Barrett (27, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 65)
Damian McKenzie (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 15)
Richie Mo’unga (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 1)
Ryan Crotty (29, Crusaders / Canterbury, 37)
Jack Goodhue (23, Crusaders / Northland, 1)
Anton Lienert-Brown (23, Chiefs / Waikato, 24)
Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 46)
Jordie Barrett (21, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 5)
Rieko Ioane (21, Blues / Auckland, 16)
Nehe Milner-Skudder (27, Hurricanes / Manawatu, 11)
Waisake Naholo (27, Highlanders /Taranaki, 19)
Ben Smith (32, Highlanders /Otago, 67)