Richie Mo’unga during the All Blacks’ win over the Springboks at Ellis Park.photo/photo campaign
Whether it was a groundbreaking performance or not, Richie Mo’unga played with such authority and courage at Ellis Park, at least giving the All Blacks short-term guarantees of their best leadership option
There are still rough edges, moments of indecision and uncertainty in the All Blacks’ attacking approach in Johannesburg, but this is easily their most cohesive, methodical and forceful performance of the year.
It could be the All Blacks’ most effective offensive performance against a heavyweight opponent since they tore Ireland to shreds in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals.
Since the Lions arrived in 2017, the All Blacks have rarely produced slick, creative and innovative football when faced with large, physically packed and organized, aggressive defensive lines.
The inability to deal with the pressure of hasty defenses and the inability to find space against low-risk opponents has been a problem the All Blacks have been unable to solve for the past five years.
But maybe now they have some solution to reduce their vulnerability, and maybe the key to it all is sticking to Mo’unga at No. 10.
He gave the All Blacks a shape and structure his opponent Bodden Barrett couldn’t do this year when he was handed a playmaking role.
There’s an element of comparing apples to oranges, as Barrett spends most of his time at No. 10 with the slowball disrupting his way.
Just like no middle-aged man looks as good in a bike helmet and skinny lycra, nor does any top five perform well when they have to kick the ball from the back and fight for all the competition.
However, the way Mo’unga has played at Ellis Park still suggests he’s the right man for now.
He played as if he himself had grown tired of the All Blacks and seemed to twist himself into mental knots trying to figure out what this hasty defensive business was all about.
On the Monday before the test, he told the press with succinct and convincing honesty that the answers to many of his attacking questions were actually relatively simple: play deeper, kick the ball more often, change the running line and pass the ball. length.
His anger is palpable, his expression like that of someone who knows it’s time to deliver rather than talk – to produce exactly what was planned, rather than spend another debrief thinking about how it all went wrong.
And that’s exactly what he did. He delivered on his promise to reset his back and hit deeper.
He changed the attack as he said, and in doing so, he allowed both David Haveli and Ricoeur to end up clicking in midfield and doing some damage.
He’s a more fluid athlete than Barrett, which has never been questioned. Barrett often looks stiff in his hips, a bit erect and stiff, which is why he turns his body into a passer.
Mo’unga is more flexible and better able to dance from east to west, crossing his hips and thus gaining more time for people other than him.
But what defined Mo’unga’s performance and implied that he was groundbreaking – transformative for this All Blacks – was his authority and willingness to take charge in the final 10 minutes.
Ahead of the All Blacks’ final Test, the biggest criticism of Mo’unga was his ability to miss the big game. He’s always been capable, he just didn’t have the mentality to pull it all together.
Everything was so different at Ellis Park, where he owned his performances and was responsible for creating the speed and breadth of the attack, Mo’unga’s moment of maturity came in the final 10 minutes when he saw Barrett booked and Think of it as your own cue to lead the fight back.
Especially impressive was a mistake by Mo’unga – he conceded the ball after kick-off – which created a chance for South Africa to score a try and lead 23-21.
Mo’unga of the past may find it difficult to recover from it. The former Mo’unga, may have lost confidence after making such a mistake – holding on for too long.
But the new Mo’unga shrugged, parked himself at the front, commanded those around him, put himself in possession of the ball and emerged victorious.
That’s enough to convince us that, for now, and possibly longer, he’s the No. 10 answer and the player the All Blacks must support to lead their attacking revolution.