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'Bo'unga', Savea to be under scrutiny in Bledisloe clash

Radio Sport,
Publish Date
Thursday, 8 August 2019, 7:52PM
Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett will start together again. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Beauden Barrett is hopeful of a smoother combination with fellow playmaker Richie Mo'unga against the Wallabies, saying if they can get it right the All Blacks should quickly see the benefits.

The pair started together for the first time recently in the drawn test against the Boks in Wellington, with Barrett putting in a performance at fullback which drew strong praise from coach Steve Hansen today.

Mo'unga began more slowly but his value was especially evident after the break when he combined with Barrett to set a tempo the Boks did extremely well to survive.

Asked what he would like to see with his combination with first-five Mo'unga at Perth's Optus Stadium on Saturday, Barrett said: "To work better together."

"I think we've learned a lot from one having one game under our belts," he added. "At times we were perhaps in each other's pockets. Tactically and structurally, if we can be aligned, it will work best for the team and we should see some good rewards from that.

"He's a cool young guy," Barrett said of Mo'unga, who has led the Crusaders to three titles in three years. "He's very calm when he speaks. Playing alongside him, there's a great sense of calmness and that's a quality of his that rubs off on the boys in those tough moments when you just need to steady the ship and keep things simple."

"We liked what we saw last time we did it," Hansen said of the Mo'unga/Barrett double act. "I thought [Barrett] was the best player on the park in Wellington. We just have to make sure we keep providing opportunities. If you look at the footage against South Africa, we did create plenty of opportunities but we didn't finish many of them."

While there will be a sense of the unknown in the Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Kieran Read loose forward combination, and a little less mystery about the All Blacks' two main navigators, the jury will remain out on the Wallabies' gamble on starting James O'Connor at centre.

O'Connor, who has started a test six years ago and has been plying his trade in Europe, has been used at first-five, second-five, wing and fullback but rarely at centre. His presence may offer attacking opportunities for the visitors, but Barrett and Hansen are of the feeling that O'Connor and the Wallabies will mix things up a bit in terms of their formation.

Barrett said: "Who knows what their midfield combination will present on Saturday? We have to see every phase or play as an opportunity to attack them; it's going to be exciting.

"He's been away for a while and in a jersey we haven't seen him in much. There's no doubt he's a very talented player."

Ardie Savea. Photo / Photosport

Ardie Savea. Photo / Photosport

Meanwhile, Ardie Savea's form meant he couldn't be left out of the All Blacks starting line-up to play Australia in Bledisloe I. That was acknowledged by both Steve Hansen and Michael Cheika today, with the Wallabies coach describing the flanker as a threat who will have to be watched closely.

Cheika also called Savea a "hybrid"-type player and one not constrained by orthoxy. The Wallabies often run with two openside flankers and a No 8 but the All Blacks have rarely gone down this path; preferring instead a taller more traditional blindside rather than a shorter but explosive and pacey player such as Savea.

That they have selected him in the No 6 jersey is partly due to Liam Squire's unavailability but in the end the choice must have been simple; he just couldn't be left out and his combination with Sam Cane and Kieran Read will be eagerly anticipated by most rugby fans everywhere.

"Ardie is a player who is a sort of a hybrid," Cheika said. "He can play that hard-running, aggressive game – he's an openside as well. I had the opportunity to coach him for a small time at the Baabaas … you get to see the player for what he is and he's a bit of a hybrid between a No 8, a six and a seven. Often that can hurt players but he's a good enough player to be able to push through that and continually be selected for New Zealand.

"We've always had that; we've played [David] Pocock (still injured) and [Michael] Hooper together … I don't think the profile of any player is the essential element, it's more the quality of the player and he's obviously got good quality and we'll have to watch him closely."

Hansen said: "We're at that part of the year where we need to start putting our combinations that we want to see on a regular basis out there," adding that Savea's role wouldn't differ hugely. His greatest strength as a No 8 or openside is his ability to put his teams on the front foot and he will be expected to do the same against the Wallabies.

As to where he would pack down in the scrum or the specifics of his role, Hansen added: "We don't need to tell Australia everything do we? But probably not [pack down as a traditional blindside] - they're only numbers."

Savea added: "I've just got six on my back, I guess. Everything will stay the same; I'll just go out there and nail my role within the team.

"Having guys like Sammy and Reado around makes it easier as well."

If the All Blacks have rolled the dice a little with Savea in a selection which was predicted by most observers, so they have kept faith in the dual playmakers of Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett.

Dane Coles returns to hooker and Aaron Smith to halfback, with Anton Lienert-Brown at second-five in the absence of Sonny Bill Williams. With Matt Todd on the bench as loose forward cover, it is a line-up based around speed and Hansen's men are likely to challenge the Wallabies to play at an up-tempo pace the home side may find uncomfortable.

One surprise, however, is the selection in the Wallabies No 13 jersey of one James O'Connor, a player who last started a test six years ago.

"No, that was a bit of a surprise," Hansen said. "It's going to be interesting because he's a jack-in-the-box and will need to be looked after."

Cheika, who has mixed things up further by naming Nic White at halfback and Christian Lealiifano at first-five, said: "I think James will present something a little bit different that we haven't seen and definitely our opponents haven't seen either. He seems to have handled it pretty well in training.

"He's been very solid in his defensive work at training … obviously this is test footy but I have a lot of faith in James."


ON AIR: Daniel McHardy Afternoons

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