Mo’unga worth a look for end-of-year tour
You could envisage Steve Hansen doing a reasonable impersonation of a stock agent when mulling who to draft into his All Blacks flock ahead of the upcoming northern tour.
First five-eighth is a good a place to start when glueing a squad together and All Blacks coach Hansen, along with fellow selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox, may elect to blood another specialist for the five-game tour that starts against the Barbarians in London on November 5.
With Aaron Cruden having departed New Zealand to play in France at the conclusion of Super Rugby, Hansen has relied on Beauden Barrett to operate at playmaker, with Lima Sopoaga as his deputy, during the Rugby Championship.
Clearly fullback Damian McKenzie is marked to be a test first-five in the future, but given outside backs Ben Smith (sabbatical), Israel Dagg (knee injury) and Jordie Barrett (shoulder injury) are unavailable, the desire to rush him into a starter’s spot at No 10 may have to be tempered.
Hansen and his mates could do worse than ask Canterbury’s Richie Mo’unga whether he fancies a trip to England, France, Scotland and Wales.
Mo’unga played a significant role in the Crusaders’ charge to the Super Rugby title and despite the taxing schedule is backing-up for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup.
In addition to being an accurate goal kicker, the 23 year old can direct the attack by standing flat to commit defenders and is a fearless tackler.
Mo’unga is also tough. When he broke a bone in his hand in the Crusaders opening match against the Brumbies this year, he didn’t complain until the medical staff asked the players to report any injuries after the game.
First-five is just one position that may be under review.
When the All Blacks played Ireland in Chicago and Dublin,
Italy in Rome and France in Paris late last year, they put 36 players on the field. Of that number up to 12 will be missing when they again travel north of the equator.
In addition to Smith, Dagg and Cruden being out of the picture, Steven Luatua and Charlie Faumuina are now playing overseas and Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Liam Coltman are out for the remainder of the year because of injuries.
Elliot Dixon has struggled to recapture his form from last year, George Moala has had an injuryinterrupted term with Auckland and Malakai Fekitoa is off to French club Toulon. It remains to be seen whether Julian Savea can convince the selectors he has done enough with Wellington to reignite his test career.
The return of Nehe MilnerSkudder and the arrival of David Havili will bolster the outside back stocks and Northland centre Jack Goodhue, who was on standby during the series against the British and Irish Lions this winter, could be poised to earn his first cap.
The plan to replace halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow remains hazy.
Kerr-Barlow leaves for France at the end of the year, yet the selectors have steadfastly stuck by him and could invite him to join Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara as their touring No 9s.
Eight back rowers were selected for last year’s tour.
The departure of Luatua has been offset to a degree by the arrival of Vaea Fifita who can cover No 6 and lock, and maybe Wellington’s Brad Shields could get a look in given Dixon’s star appears to have faded.
Wellington tighthead prop Jeff To’omaga-Allen could add to the test cap he earned against Japan in 2013, while the uncapped Tasman loosehead Tim Perry may also be asked to shore-up the depleted propping stocks.
The apprentice scheme has been used sparingly by Hansen but with some success.
Jordie Barrett quickly fulfilled his promise this year and Ardie Savea was also inducted into the international system by being asked to be a non-playing tourist in 2013. Hookers are not in short supply. Still, maybe Wellington hooker Asafo Aumua would be a worthy candidate for the look-but-don’ttouch scheme.
Mo'unga is also tough, something Hansen may want to note when filtering through the list of pros and cons about his game.