CAPE TOWN – The All Blacks will look to the past in their bid to secure a third successive World Cup title, and the primary talking point when the squad arrived in Japan was Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga’s dual attacking role at fullback and flyhalf.
It is the attacking formula that won New Zealand the Under-20 World Cup in Italy in 2011, when Barrett started at No 15 and Gareth Anscombe started at 10. Anscombe would also take the goalkicking duties in the 33-22 win against England in the final. England on the day also played with George Ford at flyhalf and Owen Farrell at inside centre.
Anscombe would leave New Zealand and play for Wales at flyhalf and fullback. Injury has ruled him out of the World Cup.
The Mo’unga and Barrett experiment started against the Springboks in Wellington this year in the 16-all draw and it produced a mixed bag. All Black coach Steve Hansen and his assistant Ian Foster continued to play the duo against Australia in the two Bledisloe Cup matches, with the duo finally producing a match-winning performance in the 36-0 result against the Wallabies in Auckland.
Mo’unga was injured in the latter stages of the Auckland win and missed the one-off Test against Tonga in Hamilton. In his absence, Barrett played the first 40 minutes at flyhalf and did the goalkicking, and Ben Smith played at fullback.
Tonga didn’t offer much resistance, but Smith looked a whole lot better at fullback and Barrett had greater impact at flyhalf.
The decision to move Barrett to fullback hasn’t convinced everyone and critics of Hansen have questioned why he isn’t playing the best No 10 in the world at flyhalf.
The other school of thought is that Barrett is arguably the best attacking rugby player in the world but Mo’unga is the form flyhalf in New Zealand, and has been for the past two seasons.
Mo’unga trained with the All Blacks this week in Japan and has been declared fit for New Zealand’s opener against the Boks next Saturday.
Barrett fronted the media in New Zealand and Japan, and said he welcomed the pressure of expectation. He said he was ready to play a World Cup role as influential as Dan Carter did in 2015.
Big players stand up in big games and Foster, the All Blacks’ backline coach, had a caution for Rassie Erasmus’ Boks. Foster said that while the New Zealand acknowledged the form and confidence of the Boks, the South Africans could expect a very determined All Black challenge and that the Kiwis had arrived in Japan knowing that they would have to be at their best for the opening game.
Today some of the All Blacks spent time with the Japanese media to launch the 'New Zealand says 39' campaign.— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 12, 2019
In Japan, ‘39’ means ‘San Kyu’. So as a gesture from one country to another, we say ‘Thank You’ Japan! 🇳🇿🇯🇵#NZsays39 pic.twitter.com/cMH24ZyuH0
It is a tournament the Kiwis believe will be decided by the form of many of those U20 heroes from 2011.
Only two players, prop Solomona Sakalia and right wing Mitchell Scott, have never played Test rugby and the biggest Kiwi stars to emerge from that 2011 U20 final were Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Codie Taylor, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Charles Piutau and Luke Whitelock.
Retallick won’t play against the Boks because of injury but all the talk coming out of the Kiwi camp is that for them to win, Barrett has to fire, be it at fullback or flyhalf.@mark_keohane
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