Super Rugby Aotearoa, a competition hastily put together out of necessity and which has been more entertaining and compelling than probably even New Zealand Rugby had dared hoped, comes to a close over the next few weeks, a finish that will come too soon for most supporters who remain patiently waiting on a confirmed All Blacks test schedule.
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The re-emergence of the Blues as a true force and (related) the destructive form of Patrick Tuipulotu and Ofa Tuungafasi, the implosion of the Chiefs and impending departure for a season of their head coach Warren Gatland, the recovery of the Hurricanes and battles of near constant underdogs the Highlanders – all in front of big and appreciative crowds – mean it has been an unforgettable season, a jewel in the crown of New Zealand's success in dodging the worst of Covid-19.
But no one has shone brighter than Crusaders and All Blacks first-five Richie Mo'unga, a player who learned his craft from none other than Dan Carter and therefore a player constantly compared to one of the greatest No10s the world has seen, a player nevertheless who has forged his own path and who now must be considered the best in any position in New Zealand, if not the world.
Yes, of the world's best, only those in New Zealand and Australia are currently able to qualify due to a pandemic which has closed borders everywhere and torn up fixture lists from Edinburgh to Buenos Aires, but such has been the form of Mo'unga since the World Cup and in fact more particularly since lockdown that he would have to be in the reckoning regardless.
It's not just his vision or pace. It's not merely his handling skills or his near supernatural ability to put a teammate into space. Neither is it his brain which seems to process information faster than anyone else and invariably make the correct decision. It's also his willingness to take control of a game in danger of slipping away – like he did in the second half of the Crusaders' victory over the Blues in Christchurch – and a consistent ability to do so.
He is 26 years old, has played only 17 tests and is still developing. The question is not whether he is currently New Zealand's best No10, but how good he can get, how long he can stay at the top of his game, and whether, way down the track, he can retire with a World Cup victory in his possession like his former teammate Carter, who did it at the age of 33 by, with the help of significant others, controlling the semifinal and final against the Springboks and Wallabies respectively with his unbreakable will.
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That's way in the future though and if the pandemic has taught us anything it's the danger of looking too far ahead. Let's just say the signs are positive because one of Mo'unga's greatest attributes is his temperament, something he shares with Carter.
Very little fazes Mo'unga and all of his coaches are aware of it. It's why they can challenge him so much in a bid to find incremental improvements – Scott Hansen, the Crusaders' assistant coach and his former coach at the Linwood club, currently has the job – and it's why the then Crusaders assistant Leon MacDonald had no problem with comparing a then 23-year-old Mo'unga to Carter in front of the media in the days before his team's match against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
"There is a lot of Dan Carter about Richie Mo'unga," said former All Black MacDonald in a definitive statement to a rather softball question about a youngster yet to play a test, a comparison which would have put near impossible pressure on a lesser player.
Mo'unga has two games left for the Crusaders providing he gets through Sunday's against the Highlanders. The last one is against the Blues at Eden Park where Beauden Barrett will likely wear the No10 jersey and a whole lot of new comparisons will come up again.
It's currently clear-cut, however, and likely to remain so: Mo'unga, the kid from Riccarton High School who went to St Andrew's College via a rugby scholarship, is the world's best player and the perfect 10.