Rugby coaches are never as bullish as others with skin in the game and more than anyone they know how cruel and confusing the sport can be.

Steve Hansen was one of the All Black crew who felt that barbed recoil in 2007 when the warmest of favourites for their World Cup quarter-final fell over in a big way.

That sort of result keeps the best leaders grounded which helps explain his cautious assessment about Richie Mo'unga's claim to start as All Black five-eighths on the strength of a consistently high production for the Crusaders.

Let's just see, was Hansen's response.


He'd had a strong season but this was the big exam where Mo'unga had to negotiate the elevated pressure of a Super Rugby final tonight against the Lions.

This would be the closest heat to a test match comparison for the Crusaders and their backline director.

Hansen's observation was standard for someone who likes to keep his troops grounded and his emotions on the level.

He wants the Crusaders to win and if possible with some style. He's also very loyal to his players and in Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie has two high-quality men wearing the No10 jersey for the All Blacks.

Mo'unga had played behind a Rolls-Royce pack all season and his response would be critical because that benefit would be trimmed because of the quality of the Lions' forwards.

Hansen's cautionary note also had an eye on next week's announcement of the All Black squad for the Rugby Championship and one which could be affected by injury or form in the Super Rugby final.

Mo'unga has been in the best form of the five-eighths with his direction, general play and goal-kicking a notch up on the offerings from a strangely quiet Barrett and the hyperactive mix from McKenzie.

Those specialist qualities should be cherished rather than downgraded in this era of fascination about utility players.

There are a number of All Blacks who can play across multiple roles in the backline but you have to ask whether a few are also the best in one position.

Mo'unga fills that brief. He has been consistently the best five-eighths through the latter stages of Super Rugby and looking at his all-round game there's every reason to think his skills would translate to fill in at fullback or elsewhere off the bench.

The All Black selectors will have some incredibly tough calls when they pick their World Cup squad next year and will face the sort of emotional conflict Scott Robertson had this week when he bypassed Crusaders favourite Wyatt Crockett for the final.

Any chance to road-test newer players or others returning from injury whose form has been high quality should be taken and the opening Bledisloe Cup in Sydney in a fortnight is the stage to start Mo'unga.

Barrett is the incumbent with more than 60 caps and McKenzie is his deputy but both have been on dipped beam or flickering full glow this season. Selectors regularly fall back on arguments that contenders need to show consistently better form if they want to nudge out test regulars.

Guess what. Mo'unga has done that and the selectors need to reward that. He's played to the pattern the Crusaders want where he's shown a variety from his attacking palate and been solid on defence.

He's got all the weapons for test rugby and is playing to that level while his rivals are a touch out of sync. It happens and it's time to change the order and the pressure on everyone.