WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Richie Mo’unga advocates will finally get their wish when the flyhalf starts a test for the first time on Saturday 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 (kickoff 0735 GMT), making just his second test appearance after picking up his debut cap off the bench against France in June.
Support for the Canterbury Crusaders pivot to usurp Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks number 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 Aug. 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.
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 South Africa 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 on Saturday, lock Guido Petti said.
“We must do all at 100 percent and have no errors at all,” the 23-year-old told reporters in Auckland this week. “Close to the perfect game. We know it’s not impossible.
“I insist what we are trying to do coming here is improving our level, and taking one step ahead, one step ahead every day. That is what is going to take us to our best level.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)