You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has ended the debate over whether Richie Mo'unga would be his starting first five-eighth for the Rugby Championship by backing the more experienced Beauden Barrett.
Both were named in Hansen's squad for the southern hemisphere champs, but Mo'unga's performances in helping the Crusaders to their ninth Super rugby title this year have seen a groundswell of opinion for him to supplant Barrett.
Hansen, who had tried to dampen down the volume of that opinion last week, said while Mo'unga was playing well, Barrett's proven ability at the test level would sway his decision for the opener against Australia in Sydney on August 18.
"He's (Mo'unga) played one test match and he's got competition from the specialist five-eighth in Beauden Barrett, who's played 64 (tests)," Hansen told reporters in Christchurch after he named the squad today.
"Both of them are very good rugby players, our job is to maximise the talent we've got and over time you will see Richie get more test matches I'm sure."
Hansen added that similar debate had been circulating before the previous Rugby World Cup in England when Barrett was arguably playing better than All Blacks great Dan Carter.
Carter, however, demonstrated all of his experience from more than 100 tests to guide the All Blacks to a tense 20-18 win over the Springboks in the semi-finals and then to a 34-17 victory in the final against the Wallabies.
"Everyone wanted us to drop Dan Carter," Hansen said. "But he had one ingredient the other blokes didn't have and that was experience. And I think you saw that experience come out in the big moments.
"So we have to build that experience for Richie, but we have a player in Beauden who has been the world's best player for the last two years, so we won't be in any rush to shift him."
Hansen added that dumped loose forward Vaea Fifita still remained in their plans for the end of season tour and next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Fifita was concussed during the test series against France in June and then struggled with his form ever since.
The rangy 26-year-old, who has principally been a blindside flanker for the All Blacks, had also spent much of the Super Rugby season playing lock for the Hurricanes.
READ AND COLES RECALLED
Captain Kieran Read and Dane Coles have been recalled to the All Blacks, while Sonny Bill Williams has also been included despite being injured.
Read only returned to the field following back surgery last year after the June test series against France but was almost back to his best in the Crusaders' Super Rugby final against the Lions on Saturday.
Coles is yet to make his comeback following knee surgery, but Hansen said last week he would be in the squad even though he would probably not be available until the end of the Rugby Championship.
Hooker Liam Coltman and midfield back Ngani Laumape were named in the squad as injury cover for Coles and Williams, who has a shoulder injury and is likely to miss the first two games.
The rest of the squad was largely predictable, with all of the players named part of a training camp last week in Christchurch.
None of the Crusaders were involved in the camp as they prepared for the Super Rugby final.
"The selectors found this an incredibly difficult squad to select," Hansen said. "Whilst we congratulate those who've been named in the Rugby Championship team, we also commiserate with those who've missed out.
"It has to be noted that there are some very good players who have not made the squad.
"However, as we've seen in previous campaigns, a number of these players will get an opportunity through injury, just like Liam and Ngani already."
Rugby Championship squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles*, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Tim Perry, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock, Kieran Read.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams*, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
* currently injured