The whispers around the All Blacks starting fly-half position for the defence of their World Cup title are beginning to grow more boisterous with each passing Super Rugby round.
And while scribes, pundits and fans alike are calling for Richie Mo’unga to usurp Beauden Barrett, the only opinion that matters is that of head coach Steve Hansen and his staff.
Barrett is the incumbent and twice World Rugby player of the year. He’s played more than 70 Tests and bided his time on the bench under the tutelage of the All Blacks’ greatest ever fly-half, Dan Carter.
No player in world rugby has the match-play instincts of Barrett. His vision, speed and unpredictability can’t be coached. It’s a natural gift he has cultivated over time in the All Blacks environment.
He is also the most analysed player in the world due to his remarkable talents with ball in hand.
Trust – being the fragile commodity it is – can only be built over time.
Barrett has earned that by declining multiple European mega-money deals, opting to play for the black jersey.
Barrett rode the pine when in scandalous form in the early days of his career, which is the position his rival Mo’unga finds himself in now.
Mo’unga has been superb over the past two seasons.
For such a young player, his game management is better than Barrett’s. His goal-kicking has been reliable.
He’s in prime position to learn the art of fly-half play from someone as talented as Barrett, whose own goal-kicking routinely comes into question.
It must always be top of mind that Mo’unga operates behind a Rolls-Royce pack. Most fly-halves would perform admirably behind the Crusaders forwards.
Barrett, however, plays behind the Hurricanes’ Alfa Romeo pack. When they’re going forward, it’s a magical ride – but far too often, they’re in the chop shop needing constant repairs.
The Crusaders certainly looked directionless when Mo’unga was missing from their loss against the Waratahs a few weeks ago.
This is a feather in the cap of the young man and his growing importance and influence in the red-and-black environment.
Super Rugby, however, is not Test match rugby.
The speed of the game is completely different. In Super Rugby, you have time on the ball. In Test match rugby, there is none.
The form of senior All Blacks in the early rounds is nothing to be concerned about, as Hansen’s history of selection shows.
Ma’a Nonu was mostly a Super Rugby no-show, but was immaculate for the All Blacks season after season.
We should do well to remember history, when Carter’s ability was severely questioned in the lead-up to 2015 by the press to Hansen.
With an in-form Barrett snapping at his heels, Carter went on to lead his nation to a second World Cup title. Barrett came off the bench to make his usual significant impact and score a try in the final.
Mo’unga is also yet to be truly put under the pump in a Test match environment.
Of course, he will only get that opportunity when he starts – and he will when the time is right.
Hansen has overseen the All Blacks’ most consistently successful era. The man knows what he is doing.
He will not be swayed by popular opinion.
No player is thrown in the deep end – they are given time to become comfortable in the boiling cauldron of Test match rugby so their natural talents can come to fruition at a later stage.
Hansen has heard it all before, this chat about his players being out of form and who should be selected.
He knows all too well he has the luxury – which most nations’ coaches would give their arm and leg for – a yellow Lamborghini to start, and when he needs a Red Ferrari to call upon in his garage, he can.
He’s spoilt for choice