WELLINGTON - Richie Mo’unga advocates will finally get their wish when the flyhalf starts a Test for the first time tomorrow as New Zealand coach Steve Hansen gives the 24-year-old a chance to prove he can handle the step up from Super Rugby.
Mo’unga was named to start the Rugby Championship clash with Argentina at Trafalgar Park in Nelson, making just his second Test appearance after picking up his debut cap off the bench against France in June.
Support for the Crusaders pivot to usurp Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks No 10 jersey rose after Mo’unga guided his side to a ninth Super Rugby title, outplaying Barrett and Springboks flyhalf Elton Jantjies on successive weeks.
Hansen, however, stuck with Barrett’s wealth of experience and the twice World Player of the Year repaid his faith with a four-try, 30-point performance against Australia in their 40-12 romp at Eden Park on August 25. It was, however, only a matter of time before Mo’unga got the nod and Hansen said they needed to see what he could do at Test level with the 2019 World Cup on the horizon.
“There is definitely extra pressure because it’s not Super Rugby,” Hansen said. “There is so much more pressure because it’s just not the Canterbury fans looking at him, it’s everybody.
“There is no doubting his playing ability. He can play footy. He’s a confident young man and I am confident in him that he will front up on Saturday and play really well. What he’s got to do is his own job, he doesn’t have to be Beauden Barrett, he has to be Richie Mo’unga and bring the skill sets he has.”
Hansen also gave prop Karl Tu’inkuafe and loose forward Shannon Frizell a similar opportunity to prove themselves, while scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is likely to make his debut off the bench.
“Over the last few years they’ve improved and a side that knocks over the South Africans is a good side.” - #AllBlacks captain Kieran Read ahead of tomorrow night’s Test against Argentina 🇦🇷 #NZLvARG pic.twitter.com/WkyAWDL0jI
New Zealand have not lost any of their 26 Tests against the Pumas, but the South Americans showed how dangerous they can be when they recorded a 32-19 victory against the Springboks in Mendoza two weeks ago.
Captain Agustin Creevy said that win indicated they were aware of what did and did not work for them in the Test arena after a terrible run saw them lose 21 of their previous 24 matches.
The All Blacks, however, are a different beast after consecutive victories over the Wallabies, and the Pumas would have to be perfect tomorrow, lock Guido Petti said. “We must do all at 100 percent and have no errors at all,” he said.