All those people thumping the table in their heartfelt advocacy of Richie Mo'unga need to calm down a bit – but, equally, Steve Hansen may want to avoid the wastage of Lima Sopoaga.

It's dollars to doughnuts Mo'unga will appear at first-five for the All Blacks during this Rugby Championship. Injury alone could see to that, never mind rotation.

And if Mo'unga doesn't go on the end of year tour and play one or more tests, Donald Trump is an intellectual genius who adores women and wears a dead ginger cat on his head, Kim Kardashian has a skinny bum and Steven Adams would crawl over broken glass to play for the Tall Blacks.

Because this time round, the All Blacks – even with riches at first five – may want to guard against what happened to Sopoaga.


He looked like a world-beater in his inspirational debut against South Africa in 2015 but, when the All Blacks lost in Brisbane last year, the intercept pass he threw plus some poor kicking from hand may have affected his ranking among the first five-eighths.

Yet Brisbane was only Sopoaga's second start in his 16 tests. The other was his debut; he played the rest as a substitute.

Perhaps that contains an important lesson for the All Blacks: Mo'unga will need more starting time than two tests out of 16. That would also demonstrate how Hansen and co are not – as some claim – playing Teacher's Pet with Barrett.

The Crusaders' 10 has been the best first-five on view in Super Rugby. Yes, he has outplayed Barrett a couple of times now and, yes, Hansen is also right when he says Mo'unga plays behind a Rolls Royce pack – the inference being: "Let's see what he's like when his unmentionables are being squeezed." I mean, let's face it – you could put Peppa Pig at first five for the Crusaders and she'd do all right.

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.

Mo'unga will unquestionably be the No. 1 No. 10 for the All Blacks. It is just a question of time – and Barrett's health, fitness and form.

The All Black selectors – and they seem to have got a couple of things right in recent years – have opted for Barrett, with all that experience, to start at first five and the incisive McKenzie to come on later in the game when space is opening up in a way that suits his attacking gifts.

This has incensed many fans, some of whom may subliminally like the name "Richie" being in an All Blacks team. It's a comfort thing.

But the selectors' logic is sound. Here's the thing – if Barrett is injured or otherwise unavailable, I'd bet Mo'unga would start with McKenzie still coming off the bench. This selection is not about who is No. 1 and No. 2 first five – it's about who fits best the team's on-field strategy.

Those calling for Mo'unga to start have forgotten that Barrett himself filled the McKenzie role until he was promoted up the order – with spectacular results.

In January this year, in another column, I wrote: Prediction: by the end of the coming Super Rugby season, Richie Mo'unga will be winning the battle with Damian McKenzie to be Beauden Barrett's understudy after Lima Sopoaga's defection to European rugby.

Yeah, well, got that wrong, didn't I? Half wrong, maybe. Mo'unga seems to be the people's choice right now. That column also said: So the little darter [McKenzie] may not be a starter, consigned to bench duties because he can cover fullback, wing, first five and, at a pinch, halfback. It's in the last 20 minutes when his running can best put a scalpel to a tiring defence. His future is said to be at No. 10 but, even before Sopoaga's journey to Wasps, it was difficult to see McKenzie ahead of Barrett, Sopoaga and now Mo'unga.

It still is. McKenzie's ascension to No. 1 first five could still happen but his role seems set for now; he is not yet seriously threatening Barrett.

Also, there's quite a lot of international rugby available before next year's World Cup, 11 more tests this year before a truncated international calendar in World Cup year.

If opposing sides show signs of being able to read the Barrett playbook by the time the World Cup rolls around, the All Blacks will have another option and more depth in Mo'unga – provided he has more starts than Sopoaga did before Europe called. It'd be a surprise if that wasn't part of their thinking as, when the Lions rather stifled the All Black backline with their rush defence last year, Barrett and others suffered a bit.

There is time for Mo'unga to develop and room for him to do it in – including analysing what he is like under major pressure.

Being tested in the most searching circumstances is vital. If the selectors were consistently to choose to start McKenzie ahead of Mo'unga, maybe then the Richie Fan Club will have a point – and Mo'unga could be the second victim of the Sopoaga Syndrome.