In setting up five of the Crusaders’ 10 tries in their 66-0 thrashing of the Rebels, Richie Mo’unga again demonstrated he’s one of the three classiest first-fives in world rugby.
Another, of course, is twice International Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett who lost his mantle last year to Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton. But while Sexton is a great kicker possessed of Grant Fox-like accuracy, his running game does not rate alongside that of New Zealand’s Barrett and Mo’unga.
In scoring four fabulous tries in one test against Australia last year, the speedy Barrett showed what an attacking threat he is when given room to move. He’s also become an outstanding cover defender.
However under the intense pressure of a cluttered rush defence, Mo’unga’s slick pass and deception offers more space for his outside backs to attack whereas Barrett’s floated pass risks intercept chances for his opponents.
Mo’unga’s accurate cross-kick against the Rebels reaped tries for wings Sevu Reece and Braydon Ennor although the latter also beat three tacklers en route.
It was also Mo’unga’s sweet pass that set up the gifted Reece’s chip and chase second try – and it was the first-five’s mid-field chip that David Havili scored his from.
Finally, it was the first-five’s draw and pass which won Ennor his third try when he could have taken the gap and scored himself.
In addition, Mo’unga succeeded with seven of nine conversion attempts before Ryan Crotty celebrated his 150th match for the Crusaders by converting his own try to complete a stunning performance.
With Daniel Carter recognised as the All Blacks greatest first-five upon his international retirement after winning the 2015 World Cup, Barrett and now Mo’unga have done justice to his legacy.
Unfortunately, much like outstanding flanker Ardie Savea, Mo’unga’s game time in tests is limited to when he comes off the bench.
While the All Blacks are renowned for their depth and blazing finish, how much more effective would their attack be by combining Mo’unga and Barrett at first and second-five-eighths from the start?
With Mo’unga’s uncanny ability to put players through gaps, Barrett’s acceleration would pose more problems for defences than it already does.
That would mean sacrificing second-five muscle for speed and guile at a time when there is debate as to who should be the midfield combination.
It won’t happen this year with so many experienced midfield candidates but it could in the near future when Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu end their test aspirations.
Rugby commentators could be on the mark in predicting Crusaders wing Braydon Ennor will be the All Blacks dark horse pick for the World Cup.
He’s played consistently well and can also play centre where he would be faster than anyone else the All Blacks have tried there for many years.
Meanwhile it’s great to see Sam Cane and Dane Coles make outstanding returns to action after long stints recovering from injuries.
Cane was an inspiration in the Chiefs mighty comeback win against the Crusaders in Suva after they had conceded the first 20 points while Coles bagged two sharp tries for the Hurricanes in their 37-17 away triumph over the Lions.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author