Mo’unga looking forward to ‘special’ challenge against Tonga

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Playing so much against each other for their franchises, the All Blacks needed to have contact against different opposition to show where they were, compared to other countries.

Lack of the regular amount of Test play due to the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact across the world game. It has reduced the opportunities to assess emerging players with the 2023 Rugby World Cup in mind while also reducing chances to understand how other Test sides were coping.

First five-eighths Richie Mo'unga said Tonga were like an unknown opponent, they hadn't played for some time, and it was going to be a challenge playing them at Mt Smart as it ranked as their home ground away from Nuku'alofa.

The All Blacks were expecting large numbers of Tongan supporters to be at the game. The Tonga side would take a lot of energy from that in their bid to take a big upset from the weekend.

It would be a special weekend because many of the All Blacks had Polynesian connections, including Mo'unga, whose father was born in Tonga.

The Test would also see a continuation of the rivalry between the two five-eighths, Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett.

Mo'unga said the position he shared with Barrett was no different to most other players. There was a lot of competition for places, and that was healthy for the team.

"It's healthy for us because it's a big challenge to know that I've got someone like Bazz wanting the same jersey as me," he said.

"It's motivating, it's inspiring, it's not an unhealthy challenge. It's one that's going to be better for the team whoever dons the jersey, I'll be happy for him and he'll be happy for me. And it's about, if I'm not putting that 10 jersey on what's my role?"

It wasn't something they shied off talking about. They weren't bigger than the team, he said, as the team was far greater than the individual. It was about what was better for the team.

"It's putting your ego on a hook," he said.

Barrett's experience and ability put pressure on those aspiring to the first five-eighths position. Mo'unga said when he played in the position he didn't want to let Barrett or the country down.

"It's a healthy relationship and I'm sure he feels the same way about me. But 10 is such a crucial position, it's the driver of the team, it's a position where you've got to take the lead, and we've both got different ways of doing that," he said.

While there were changes for the All Blacks in midfield due to injuries and departures, Mo'unga hoped being aware of less experienced players in the role would not cause him to change the way he played.

"I want to play what's in front of me. I think it's a strength of mine.

"It's giving things a crack and playing based on my gut feel and my instincts and I hope that everyone that plays outside me, my midfield, do the same and I just hope they nail their roles so I can nail mine, and that collectively puts together a good performance," he said.

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