SUPER RUGBY FINAL
Crusaders’ Richie Mo’unga peaking at the right time
With the way the Crusaders are set up‚ it is difficult to pin their success on an individual. But their run to the final has been timed impeccably with Richie Mo’unga’s coming of age as a player of serious reckoning.
It was a challenge to replace such celebrated Crusaders playmakers as Andrew Merhtens and Daniel Carter.
The former was at the forefront of the treble the South Island franchise secured at the turn of the millennium and another title in 2002.
Carter took the art of flyhalf play to another level‚ helping the Crusaders to title wins in 2005‚ 2006 and 2008. Mo’unga was not even flickering on the radar when the Crusaders beat the Waratahs 20-12 at the sadly now defunct Lancaster Park on the last of those occasions.
Only Kieran Read and Wyatt Crockett remain from the Robbie Deans-coached side as Todd Blackadder’s team became bridesmaids to the Australian teams that bested them in 2011 and again in 2014.
With Beauden Barrett‚ Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga being the first-choice All Black pivots‚ Mo’unga has been allowed to develop at his own pace, with startling effect.
Goalkicking was an issue but that seems to be sorting itself out. However‚ he is far from the accuracy displayed by the Barrett brothers and Damian McKenzie‚ who at some point will be asking questions about his All Black credentials at flyhalf. What Mo’unga will have over McKenzie will be Super Rugby final experience‚ which normally comes in handy when it comes to All Black selection.
The strong Crusaders pack, which has not always gone about its business legally, has allowed Mo’unga to blossom. The one time their pack was checked‚ it led to the Hurricanes loss — and the trip to SA.
The Lions pack has not been the 2016 vintage, but their second-half resurgence last Saturday allowed Elton Jantjies to take charge in the best way he knew. It was clear he had shrugged off his forgettable quarterfinal showing against the Sharks to spur the Lions into their first home final.
Jantjies will pose a challenge Mo’unga has encountered for the best part of the season in the excellent New Zealand flyhalves. Whether altitude will be an issue remains to be seen as the Crusaders made light work of the Bulls and Cheetahs in Pretoria and Bloemfontein.
The Lions and their Ellis Park fortress will present a different challenge to the Crusaders, though. They are fitter‚ faster and better than their neighbours in northern and central SA.
This is something Mo’unga will realise very quickly but his role in the Crusaders’ 2017 resurgence cannot be understated.