Richie Mo'unga gives off a vibe that invokes a particular sense of confidence he's going to deliver on his immense promise when he makes his first test start this weekend.

There's a maturity to Mo'unga that sets him apart from his peers. He's only recently turned 24, played just 15 minutes of test football and yet it's so much easier to imagine him giving a commanding performance against Argentina in Nelson than it is to see him falling apart under the pressure of it all.

This young man seems to be blessed with not only a wider, finely honed set of physical skills, but also a different mental make-up to the other hopefuls who have been given their shot at stardom in the All Blacks' No 10 jersey.

Such has been the abundance of riches at first-five in recent times that many have probably forgotten how much drama used to be involved whenever the All Blacks had to test their depth at pivot.


If Dan Carter was ever injured back in the day, there was a dark mood about those who followed rugby and the fortunes of the national team.

Forgotten too, no doubt, is the difficulty even good players had in initially finding their feet in such a demanding role. Aaron Cruden went on to become a 50-test All Black and a world class operator, but his first start in Sydney 2010 was a bit of a horror show.

He'd had a few games off the bench that year, but his first time in the actual No 10 jersey saw the wheels come flying off.

Colin Slade, another who went on to establish himself as a good All Black, made his debut at No 10 off the bench that same night. He was a little more composed than Cruden but when his turn to start came the following year, he was a similar bag of nerves and obvious flaws.


WATCH: All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen talks about the team’s mindset ahead of the Investec Rugby Championship Test against Argentina at Trafalgar Park, Nelson, on Saturday. The team has been named with first five-eighth Richie Mo’unga to make his first Test start, while halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi is set to make his Test debut off the bench. For the full team, click here:

Posted by All Blacks on Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Even Beauden Barrett didn't really convince in his first start at No 10. That came in Napier 2014, against the Pumas, and while he'd been a super sub many times since 2012, he definitely wobbled a bit when he finally got into that coveted jersey.

He wobbled a few more times to be honest and as unbelievable as it is to think, it was to such an extent that he wasn't actually the preferred successor to Carter when the great man retired from test football in 2015.

The only player in recent history who slipped into the No 10 jersey and made it look effortless from day one is, of course, Carter.

And Mo'unga seems, mentally at least, to be a similar kind of beast. Last year his Crusaders coach Leon MacDonald made that very comparison ahead of the game against the Lions.

Richie Mo'unga is right in the thick of things for the All Blacks this weekend.
Richie Mo'unga is right in the thick of things for the All Blacks this weekend.

MacDonald, who had played a bit with Carter, saw Mo'unga in much the same mould — never flustered, never hurried and never one to dwell on his mistakes.

He also felt that commonality in mindset enabled Mo'unga to be a similarly astute decision-maker and game manager.

And that's so much of the battle for first-fives – it is not necessarily about being able to run, pass and kick — it is about knowing when to do it.

It's that insight into the game which makes the best No 10s stand out. Mo'unga is quick and agile, but he looks quicker than he is because he reacts to the opportunity before anyone else.

He has so much influence on Super Rugby games because he gets compounding value on his good decisions.

This was the key to Carter's quick transition to test rugby — he had the temperament to trust his instincts and believe in his game management.

Starting a test at No 10 is a big step up from steering the Crusaders through two successful championships, but he's that same unhurried, calm character as Carter and that's why Mo'unga is likely to make the same successful transition to the test arena.

All Blacks

v Pumas, Saturday, 7.35pm
Trafalgar Park, Nelson

15. Ben Smith

14. Nehe Milner-Skudder

13. Jack Goodhue

12. Ngani Laumape

11. Waisake Naholo

10. Richie Mo'unga

9. TJ Perenara

8. Kieran Read

7. Ardie Savea

6. Shannon Frizell

5. Scott Barrett

4. Brodie Retallick

3. Owen Franks

2. Codie Taylor

1. Karl Tu'inukuafe

Reserves: Nathan Harris, Tim Perry, Ofa Tuungafasi, Sam Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi , Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown