The All Blacks will have more firepower if Richie Mo'unga starts the Bledisloe Cup series in Sydney.

He's improved through three Super Rugby campaigns and while his form is consistently sharp in comparison to his rivals, Mo'unga should receive his international credit.

Coach Steve Hansen has been involved with a number of bold calls which have helped build the side's majestic record.


Aaron Smith was a wildcard pick for halfback in 2012, Beauden Barrett got the call in his first starting season of Super Rugby, likewise Nehe Milner-Skudder for his debut against the Wallabies while the raw talent of Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape went to work against the visiting Lions last year.

Mo'unga has more experience and fits the form template to place alongside his understanding of the nuances of his test comrades at the Crusaders.

He's been in strong form either side of his broken jaw and gave an emphatic answer, if one was really needed, to Hansen's remark about showing up under the increased heat of a Super Rugby showdown against the Lions. Mo'unga had an all-round game which shouted test class and demanded a 'pick-me' endorsement for the start of the Bledisloe.

Control, communication, speed, vision, goal-kicking, defence — go through the list and the ticks keep coming.

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But, the contrary chorus will shout, Barrett is the incumbent with more than 60 tests' experience, several World Rugby Player of the Year awards and a game which will rise in the All Blacks environment.

Two of those viewpoints are factual. The other is an unknown. Barrett is experienced and at his best a very sharp operator but those signs have not been often seen at the Hurricanes this season. There's an implication he did not receive enough vocal help from Laumape but you could equally sheet home that criticism at his international colleague TJ Perenara.

Whatever the cause, Barrett has not been able to bring enough of the sting which has made him such a dangerous player.


He's been below his best for large chunks of the season and certainly when the Hurricanes needed him to rise as they moved towards the playoffs while Mo'unga's form chart has continued to improve.

The other five-eighths contender, Damian McKenzie, still looks like he's coming to grips with the rhythm he needs to bring consistently to that role.

He's a hell of a talent, brilliant and exasperating in the same movement and with the look of a utility at test level who can give it death after coming from the bench.

For now, he and Jordie Barrett should cool their jets as a reserve group of Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown and Beauden Barrett covers multiple roles if there is an early injury or a lift needed for the final 30 minutes.

The Mo'unga/Barrett/McKenzie debate is a nod to the depth of rugby talent in this country which keeps emerging and is encouraged through the grades.

Don't forget Lima Sopoaga's part in that five-eighths mix either or the departures of Aaron Cruden, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Taylor and Colin Slade when not so long ago there was a lament about finding enough strong competition.

Creating that depth of talent is the envy of the rugby world and a competitive situation the All Blacks coaches want.

We can debate the merits of players and change our minds frequently on the evidence of what we see out on the field.

That's all we have to go on, however, Hansen and his crew have the closest view and knowledge on how these men fit into their plans — just as long as that means victory in Sydney on Saturday week.