Steve Hansen reckons every time he watches the Crusaders play at home he's told to pick Richie Mo'unga as his first-five ahead of Beauden Barrett.

"I walk away thinking 'we've already put him in team'," All Blacks coach Hansen said today as he announced his 33-player All Black squad for the Rugby Championship. "He's in the squad. He's 24 years old and he's played one test match.

"He's got competition from the specialist first-five in Beauden Barrett who's played 64 tests, I think it is. He's been world player of the year twice. Both of them are very good rugby players. Our job is to maximise the talent they've got and over time you'll see Richie get more tests, I'm sure."

It's fair to say, then, that Hansen has heard it all before. The latest clamour over Mo'unga has come after the Crusaders No10 put in a man of the match performance for his team in their Super Rugby grand final victory over the Lions. A week before that he outplayed Barrett in the semifinal, also in Christchurch.


That performance against the Hurricanes led to Hansen defending Barrett by saying Mo'unga was playing behind a "Rolls Royce" forward pack, a comment picked up by Crusaders coach Scott Robertson in the aftermath of their final win, but the fact remains test rugby is an altogether different beast.

Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders lifts the Super Rugby trophy after winning the Super Rugby Final match between the Crusaders and the Lions. Photo / Getty Images.
Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders lifts the Super Rugby trophy after winning the Super Rugby Final match between the Crusaders and the Lions. Photo / Getty Images.

The stakes are far higher and the spotlight unremitting, especially for a first-five, which means experience is crucial. It's clear too in the demotion of Ngani Laumape that Mo'unga has had a big advantage while playing alongside Ryan Crotty.

Barrett, too, hasn't had the luxury of playing behind a pack like that possessed by the Crusaders. But as an All Black No10, the 27-year-old's ability to set a test match agenda and navigate his team around the pitch with precision and occasional X-factor marks him out as a special player and one, rightly, who has Hansen's full backing.

"I think about a bloke before a World Cup we went to and everyone wanted us to drop Dan Carter," Hansen said with reference to the last tournament in 2015. "But he had one ingredient that the other blokes didn't have and that was experience. You saw that experience come out in the big moments.

"We have to build slowly with Richie and build his experience but in the meantime we have got a player in Beauden who has been the best player in the world for the last two years. We won't be in any rush to shift him."

It's also probable that Mo'unga won't make the match day 23 for the All Blacks first Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Sydney a week on Saturday. Damian McKenzie's versatility and ability to cover first-five and fullback means he is likely to keep Mo'unga off the reserves bench, but Hansen noted that Mo'unga, who made his test debut as a replacement against France in Dunedin in June, was playing at an extremely high level.

"Richie couldn't have done any more than he's done this year with the Crusaders. He's been outstanding," Hansen said.

"Anybody in the Canterbury [Crusaders] team could have been in the side. That's how good a team they are. That's why I said they have a Rolls Royce forward pack and they have a Rolls Royce team. That's why they won the competition. They're well coached and have some great players."