There are three New Zealanders who get paid very close attention. The Prime Minister is one, as is Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr. The other is All Black coach Steve Hansen, who gets asked from time to time to calm an anxious nation.

His gruff wisdom is now being pressed to settle the matter of who gets to wear the number 10 jersey. For much of winter, and more so since last Saturday evening, the drums have been beating for Richie Mo'unga, the Crusaders' first-five, to replace incumbent Beauden Barrett.

Hansen scatters few public clues about his position on these weighty matters. He is aware that his remarks carry considerable freight, so his comments, when they do come, tend to invite intense scrutiny.

The coach remarked that in Super Rugby, Mo'unga was playing behind a Rolls-Royce forward pack, which by inference gave him time and space to weave his magic. Hansen reminded the armchair selectors that with Ryan Crotty alongside him, Mo'unga had one of the "better talkers" in the game to help him out.


So in the blink of eye, Hansen sent a message to Barrett that he remained first cab off the rank, and to Ngani Laumape, who has 10 tests under his belt but is not wanted until he gets chatting a bit more.

The All Black way is that, barring retirement, you retain your place until you do not. The officeholder in any position holds the upper hand though not, it should be said, forever. Hansen wields the axe. His record suggests he knows better than most when to swing it.