The making of Richie Mo’unga: the All Black good enough to learn from adversity

first_img Twitter Share on LinkedIn Topics Rugby union Read more Which is not bad considering he was told he was too small by his rugby league-playing elder brothers to play “their” game, and probably looked on in awe as he watched one of them play outside of Carter in the Christchurch Boys’ High School first XV.If Mo’unga was overawed, it didn’t last. By the time he made his own first XV, with three years at Christchurch’s St Andrew’s College, he was bossing games and the word was out, to the extent that he was playing for Canterbury in the national provincial championship the next year and the Crusaders two years after that.While in Japan, Mo’unga should probably flick a few tickets to his former coach Todd Blackadder, now coaching at Toshiba, who got him started in Super Rugby. With Carter having departed as the 2016 season kicked off, Blackadder had limited options. How do you replace one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, who had had a mortgage on the Crusaders No 10 jersey for a decade?There was Ben Volavola, now with Fiji, who had been brought in from Sydney the year before for a bit of a look. Or there was Mo’unga, two years out of school and just 18 games into his Canterbury career. Blackadder chose Mo’unga and got his pay as the rookie started all 16 games and scored 179 points. Steve Hansen fears tackle red cards could swing World Cup knockout games Facebook Mo’unga was on track to Test football even before the Lions hit Christchurch, but the level of pressure they exerted during their 12-3 victory over the Super Rugby heavyweights was a squeeze job the second-year Crusader had seldom experienced before. He, like his teammates, didn’t handle it well. They were unable to break free of the vice and barely threatened to score a try.Good players learn from difficulty though, and Mo’unga has. The merit of his selection as the All Blacks’ starting first-five-eighth was initially lost in transmission to some extent, overshadowed by the shuffling of two-time world player of the year Beauden Barrett to fullback. Three weeks into the World Cup, with the game’s best exponents of the position on show, its legitimacy is no longer in question.Mo’unga is pretty darn good, and the legacy of his exposure directing the Crusaders backline is his ability to run a game strategically. He chooses his options exceedingly well, embracing a template that ensures the Crusaders, and now the All Blacks, play in the right areas of the field. This is something they didn’t do quite so well last weekend during the patchy first half with Jordie Barrett at the wheel against Namibia.The strategically calculating aspect of the Mo’unga game, which is so often key in tight matches, is probably superior to that of Beauden Barrett, whose first instinct, honed at the Hurricanes, is usually to run. Tellingly, Mo’unga has developed his game more than Barrett after the Lions placed him in a straight jacket.He also struggled against their rush defence in the Tests, but has been bottled up a few times since, by Ireland but also, ironically enough, by the Crusaders a few times. Channelling his “inner Dan Carter”, Mo’unga carries more into contact now than he did pre-Lions. He is also more alert to space in behind, as he showed with his kick “passes” to winger Sevu Reece during the pool win over South Africa. By varying his kicking more, the ability of a rush defence to shut down his options has reduced. Pinterest Share on Pinterest Enduring allure of all-conquering All Blacks makes them big in Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 Share via Email Read more … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Carter scored 1708 at 12.1 per game, while Mehrtens tallied 990 at 10.3.The 25-year-old is keeping good company and has time on his side to exceed them. Carter steered the All Blacks home in the last World Cup and won three Super Rugby titles. Mehrtens never won the World Cup but was a title winner with the Crusaders four times.With three Super Rugby titles already in the bag, and a World Cup winner’s medallion potentially only three wins away, the little brother who was too small is poised to upstage them all. Share on Facebook Share on WhatsApp New Zealand rugby union team Share on Messenger features As the Rugby World Cup prepares for the quarter-finals, the outcome of the tournament may rest on the abilities of each contender’s key playmakers to unlock suffocating defence lines. Should the All Blacks prevail it will be, at least in part, because two years ago the Wales coach did New Zealand Rugby a massive favour.By shackling the Crusaders backline, and especially young first-five-eighth Richie Mo’unga, the Warren Gatland-coached British & Irish Lions dished out a lesson in rush defence that helped grow the All Black into the complete package he is today. Share on Twitter Reuse this content Aside from his attacking bag of tricks, Mo’unga has also worked hard on his tackling, which showed against South Africa when he mowed down breakaway winger Cheslin Kolbe. The increased commitment to knocking over the big ball runners front-on did cost him seven games out last year after breaking his jaw on Springbok and Stormers prop Steven Kitsoff. But Mo’unga would argue it was worth it. The 10 channel is no longer an easy yard maker off turnover ball for opposing forwards when he is on guard. Mo’unga already has three Super Rugby titles in the bag and is three wins away from adding a World Cup title. Photograph: David Davies/PA Ben Ryan Australia sport Read morelast_img read more