Mo’unga worth a look for end-of-year tour

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - RICHARD KNOWLER

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.

PHOTOSPORT

Richie Mo’unga.

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