Hansen plays down Mo'unga hype

Richie Mo'unga has been influential for the Crusaders in Super Rugby this year. Photo: Getty Images
Richie Mo'unga has been influential for the Crusaders in Super Rugby this year. Photo: Getty Images
Richie Mo'unga may be Super Rugby's standout first five-eighth this season, but Steve Hansen isn't ready to hand him the All Blacks role just yet.

The Crusaders No 10 has been in impressive form all season, leading the side into the final against the Lions this weekend.

However, when asked if Mo'unga was putting heat on Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie in terms of All Blacks selection, Hansen was quick to point out one key difference between the three.

"He's playing behind the Rolls Royce pack," Hansen said of Mo'unga. "But, yes he is [putting heat on]. He's playing the way we're expecting him to play behind a pack like that.

"It's going to be really interesting to see how he does in a big game. It's not a test match, but it's probably the closest you'll get to one without playing one. I'm really looking forward to seeing how he drives the team around the park and how he does those things...he's got an exciting future."

With Mo'unga at the helm this season, the Crusaders have averaged 40 points in 11 performances. In seven matches without him, they averaged just 25; and he outshone the current national first and second choice No 10s at every opportunity he got in head-to-head match ups.

However, when the Rugby Championship rolls around later this month, Beauden Barrett will more than likely assume his role steering the ship at test level.

The All Blacks wider training squad was named on Wednesday, however Mo'unga and his fellow Crusaders were left out due to their Super Rugby commitments and would be added to the squad after this weekend's final.

Despite having played no rugby this year, Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles was one of the 28 players named in the group. Coles last took to the paddock in early November last year and had been working through knee and calf injuries throughout 2018.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald in May, Coles was hopeful to return during the Mitre 10 Cup season for Wellington, and Hansen confirmed on Wednesday that was looking like it would be the case.

"He's come along good. He's still not ready to play; we're thinking late September or early October," Hansen said.

"More than likely we'll name him so we can have access to him as the season goes on. He'll come back through the Mitre 10 Cup team and play various amounts of minutes in there and once he's had enough rugby he'll come to us."

After working his way back from injuries, Hansen said Coles' was a case of getting his match fitness back before he could play again. The 31-year-old should see time for Wellington during the provincial competition, which begins in mid-August - the same time as the Rugby Championship.

"He needs to get a bit of intensity into his training and that's going to take a while...We've got to get him running fit so we can have the old Colesy back."

Fellow injured All Black Sonny Bill Williams was also named in the squad, and was expected to be available after the first two games of the Rugby Championship.

The news wasn't so positive for Chiefs prop Nepo Laulala, who has had to have surgery on a broken arm that did not heal properly during the Super Rugby season.

Laulala was injured in the Chiefs' second match of the season and didn't feature for the side again.

Hansen confirmed the earliest he was expecting Laulala to be available for selection would be the end of year tour.

All Blacks Wider Training Squad
Forwards

Hookers: Dane Coles, Liam Coltman and Nathan Harris.

Props: Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi.

Locks: Brodie Retallick and Patrick Tuipulotu.

Loose forwards: Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Akira Ioane, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire and Luke Whitelock.

Backs

Halfbacks: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

First five-eighths: Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie.

Midfielders: Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown and Sonny Bill Williams.

Outside backs: Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith.

- Christopher Reive

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