Dual playmakers, a new loose trio and now two inexperienced wings Sevu Reece and George Bridge starting against the Wallabies – the All Blacks are doubling down on their gamble of investigating just what their players are capable of ahead of next month's World Cup defence.

A quick evaluation. The Richie Mo'unga/Beauden Barrett double act has been a qualified success and will remain for the short-to-medium term; certainly for the big games in Japan.

It was harder to get a read on how Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Kieran Read could potentially combine because all three were compromised once Scott Barrett was dismissed in Perth last weekend, but that too looks promising.

And the feedback will be immediate on Reece, who made his Super Rugby debut only in February, and Bridge, two inexperienced young Crusaders who base their games around remaining in perpetual motion and making the most of every opportunity.


Mo'unga, who will again navigate the All Black ship from No 10 alongside fullback Barrett, has got to this position via hard work and perseverance. That is less applicable for the 22-year-old Reece, but his form was such in scoring 15 tries in 13 matches for the Crusaders – many of them spectacular – that he couldn't be ignored.

Richie Mo'unga during the team press conference in Auckland. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Richie Mo'unga during the team press conference in Auckland. Photo / Mark Mitchell

And neither could the below-par form of Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane, although the dropping of the latter was more of a surprise.

"Probably how witty he is," was Mo'unga's tongue-in-cheek reply about what Fijian-born Reece brings. "His eagerness to learn. His knowledge of the game can be underestimated and he brings a lot of value. His energy on the ball is awesome and the fact he can turn something from nothing is what has given him the year that he has had.

"He's a humble kid and works really hard and just wants to learn. I'm really impressed with him."

Bridge, 24, built a reputation in Christchurch of being a player who inevitably makes the right decision and being in the right place at the right time; sort of a younger Ben Smith, in fact.

"George is someone who just performs every week," Mo'unga said. "As a high-performance athlete that's sometimes hard to do but he's shown that he has a mature head and is able to do his role consistently and with a lot of effort. I love that about George and I love how hard he works around the park."

Beauden Barrett said: "It's exciting. Seeing Sevu and George go on Saturday will be great to watch. I haven't always enjoyed watching them play for the Crusaders but they've gone well and I love how they back their instincts."

Asked about Smith's absence on the right, he replied: "With Ben not being there you lose a lot of experience and a very calm head, but on the other hand you have a very excited Sevu Reece, so … look, Ben is a class player and he will be back in no time, but I'm excited about seeing Sevu go."

Sevu Reece and George Bridge at All Blacks training. Photo / Getty
Sevu Reece and George Bridge at All Blacks training. Photo / Getty

Bridge, no slouch himself with or without the ball, said: "We've all seen what Sevu can do this year so that's pretty exciting. It's just another game, there's obviously a lot of pressure on us but we just want to bring the energy and get our hands on the ball."

The message all week is that the All Black pack was humbled by the Wallabies a week ago, and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen went further by saying a "200 per cent" improvement was required by his big men.

Barrett, asked how confident he was that his backline could create difficulties should they get their fair share of possession, replied: "Extremely. I've got so much faith in what we're doing and the desire we have to play for each other."

His try in combination with Mo'unga at Optus Stadium in Perth was another piece of evidence that the All Blacks could be building something worthwhile.

"That was one of the few passages we had where we built some pressure and looked after some ball," Barrett said. "Obviously doing that was a challenge with 14 men on Saturday. If we can get more ball with 15 men in our structure I'm excited about what we can do."