Rugby-Mo'unga back in driving seat as All Blacks look to sweep Fijians

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·2-min read
Rugby World Cup - Bronze Final - New Zealand v Wales
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Ian Ransom

(Reuters) - Richie Mo'unga has won the opening round with Beauden Barrett in New Zealand's playmaking duel and will hold the reins for the All Blacks as they look to sweep the Fiji series with victory in Hamilton on Saturday.

The flyhalf rivalry has triggered huge debate among New Zealand fans after Barrett was used as a second playmaker at fullback last season and Mo'unga given the number 10 jersey.

With Mo'unga rested from the opener against Fiji, twice World Rugby Player of the Year Barrett started at flyhalf in the 57-23 win in Dunedin but came off with a black eye and drew only lukewarm praise in New Zealand media.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster said Mo'unga deserved first crack at flyhalf but denied his mind was made up for the long haul.

"It's shaping up just nicely," Foster told reporters on Thursday of the playmakers' rivalry.

"It's not like we're trying to design a big boxing match with one against the other -- we're trying to grow our 10s in terms of understanding how we play.

"I'd give Richie the points based on the first two games but, to be fair, we always expected that," added Foster.

"Beauden made a lot of really good decisions (against Fiji) -- his instincts were probably a fraction off and that's why we're keen to keep playing him and give him more time.

"I was really impressed with a lot of his game management and to me he's not far off where we need him to be."

Despite the winning margin in Dunedin, the All Blacks' performance failed to impress many of the country's hard-marking fans or help Foster win over sceptics after his patchy first season in charge last year.

Vern Cotter-coached Fiji, however, were feted for giving the All Blacks more of a test than expected while missing a number of key players due to COVID-19-related travel curbs.

Unable to call on regular captain Sam Cane and a string of injured stalwarts, Foster has welcomed back loose forward Ardie Savea and centre Anton Lienert-Brown, and picked a virtually full strength team.

He will be hoping for improvement from his side, not just to ease the pressure on himself but also to make a statement ahead of bigger tests against Australia next month and New Zealand's southern hemisphere rivals in the Rugby Championship.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by Kim Coghill)

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting