Wednesday, February 28, 2024

OPINION: Mo’unga and Barrett brothers star

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Richie Mo’unga and Jordie and Beauden Barrett were the All Blacks to demonstrate their special gifts in the latest round of Super Rugby last weekend.

Having noted the Crusaders hard-fought draw against the Sharks the previous weekend, the Bulls would have fancied their chances facing the championship leaders at their Pretoria fortress.

Instead, with Mou’unga starting the seven-try blitz with the first two corkers and dazzling Fijian right wing Sevu Reece adding a hat-trick, the Bulls were thrashed 45-13.

Mo’unga converted five to make it a personal 20-point haul and reinforce the belief that in him and two times International Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, New Zealand have the best two first-fives in world rugby. Both also have the happy knack of setting up tries for others.

With so much back line depth to choose from, the All Black selectors face a difficult task naming their 31-man World Cup squad.

The odds are there will be few newcomers, however the lightning fast Reece could be one at the expense of fellow Fijian Waisake Naholo who is about to return from a long injury spell.

Like Naholo, Reece can beat defenders with little space to work with and is surprisingly strong for his size. He’s also got good vision which allows him to offload in tight situations.

His high leap to claim a Mo’unga crosskick for one of his tries was absolute perfection.

With George Bridge having scored two tries upon coming on as a reserve in his test debut against Japan last year, the Crusaders are blessed with champion wings. Will Jordan is another with a bright future.

With Damian McKenzie’s knee injury having sidelined him for the season, Jordie Barrett is making every post a winner since returning to fullback for the Hurricanes.

At 6ft 5in, he’s always been safe under the high ball and has a strong attacking game, as shown when he scored four tries on the right wing for the All Blacks against Italy last year.

However what impressed most in the Hurricanes hard-fought 22-12 win against the Blues was several crunching try-saving tackles that denied the Blues victory.

Brother Beauden also tackled well and contributed a timely 50m intercept try that, along with a disallowed penalty try, gave the Hurricanes a flattering victory.

Ma’a Nonu has lost some of his old speed but remains a tough second-five who delivers a great skip pass and isn’t afraid to do the hard yards in heavy traffic.

However fellow juggernaut Ngani Laumape also had a good game marking him, beats more men and makes more metres.

With Steve Hansen valuing experience so much, it will be interesting to see which four of Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Laumape and Nonu make the World Cup squad.

Given Nonu’s 37 years and Williams’ unfortunate injury proneness, I favour the other four at this point.

Crotty remains a smart, rock solid player, Lienert-Brown has consistently been the Chiefs’ best player and the powerful Goodhue has no weaknesses.

Two brilliant tries by speedy Brad Weber clinched the Chiefs’ gutsy 29-23 win over a Sharks side coming off their drawn game against the Crusaders.

A very sharp attacker, the experienced Weber is also a brave defender and deserves No 3 ranking among our halfbacks behind Aaron Smith and PJ Perenara.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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