Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga has opened up about his ongoing, but healthy, rivalry with Beauden Barrett for the All Blacks No 10 jersey.
The All Blacks are set to host Tonga in Auckland on Saturday, 3 July and the battle between Barrett and Mo’unga for the coveted jersey was the primary topic of conversation at New Zealand’s media conference on Monday.
Barrett was the first-choice flyhalf since Dan Carter’s retirement in 2015, but that was before the period where former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen chose to play Barrett at fullback and Mo’unga at No 10 in a dual-playmaker partnership.
Speaking about the narrative that they are embroiled in a ‘battle’, Mo’unga admitted he and Barrett talk about it, and said it makes little sense to ignore it.
“I think it’s healthy for the team, it’s healthy for us,” Mo’unga said of the competition with Barrett.
“It’s a big challenge and to know that someone like Baz is wanting the same jersey as me, it’s motivating, it’s inspiring. It’s not an unhealthy challenge, it’s one that’s going to be better for the team and whoever dons the jersey, I’ll be happy for him and he’ll be happy for me.”
Mo’unga said filling the boots of the two-time World Player of the Year was not an easy job, but was confident of putting in a quality performance no matter what role he was given.
“It definitely puts a lot of pressure on me because we all know what he’s capable of. If I’m wearing the 10 jersey I don’t want to let him down as well as the country.
“Ten is such a crucial position, it’s the driver of the team. It’s a position where you’ve got to take lead – we both have different ways of doing that – but I’m sure whoever gets to don the 10 jersey will do a great job.
“Whatever my role is, whether it’s in the 10 or not, I’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
Mo’unga’s Crusaders teammate Codie Taylor said the coaches had a “tough job” deciding between the pair, and praised Mo’unga for his performances in Super Rugby this season.
“I think you see it every week what he does on the park,” Taylor said.
“Both [Mo’unga and Barrett] are two of the most hard-working people in preparation for a game. It’s a tough job for the coaches but at the same time those two have a really good relationship.”
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