All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster hints at ‘a few plans’ for red-hot Richie Mo’unga

All Blacks assistant Ian Foster says while he sees Richie Mo'unga as a first-five, he has the skills for fullback. Picture: 1 NEWS

AUCKLAND, 10 AUGUST 2018 (STUFF NZ) – All Blacks assistant Ian Foster says while he sees Richie Mo’unga as a first-five, he has the skills for fullback.

Ian Foster reckons the All Blacks can extract the best out of Richie Mo’unga without pasting a No 15 on his back.

That doesn’t mean to say Crusaders first five-eighth Mo’unga won’t be asked to roam the back field when he next represents the All Blacks, but assistant coach Foster, who is charged with formulating the team’s attack, indicated that if he did it wouldn’t be in the traditional role of fullback.

This week Crusaders assistant backs coach Ronan O’Gara, a former Ireland international, floated the idea of shifting Beauden Barrett to fullback to allow Mo’unga, who helped the Crusaders defend their Super Rugby title against the Lions last weekend and was arguably the best playmaker in the competition, to start at No 10 in tests.

Despite All Blacks coach Steve Hansen having already endorsed Barrett, twice named World Rugby’s player of the year, as his best No 10 ahead of the test against the Wallabies in Sydney next weekend, O’Gara’s comments immediately added more heat to a debate about whether Mo’unga should usurp the incumbent.

Complicating O’Gara’s theory is the fact that Ben Smith, Jordie Barrett and Damian McKenzie are all capable test fullbacks in their own right.

“There is a lot of excitement coming out here [in Christchurch] about what has happened at the Crusaders and it is great,” Foster said in reference to Mo’unga.

“But we have got a few plans … I think he is a 10, but as a 10 you play a lot at 15 nowadays anyway. And I think we have seen that with Damian, we have seen that with Beaudie.”

The fullback position is not foreign to Mo’unga. He has played first-class footy there, beginning with seven games at No 15 for the Canterbury in 2014 and throughout his career has been asked by the Crusaders to drop behind the backline to allow him to snare opposition kicks so he can either run or punt the ball back.

During the 37-18 win over the Lions in the final Mo’unga steamed in from the deep, and jumped to pouch a high kick from Elton Jantjies to set-up a try for David Havili.

Before replacing Aaron Cruden as the All Blacks’ top-ranked No 10 in 2016 Barrett’s versatility on the bench, because he could play first-five and fullback, was invaluable. McKenzie has recently been converted to first-five for the All Blacks and the Chiefs, but has played most of his first-class career at fullback.

There is also potential for the All Blacks to empower Mo’unga to be an option in the fullback’s job, even if he is selected as a first-five.

“Some parts of the game are interchangeable,” Foster added. “If you can deal with the high ball and counter attack, you can play 15 and that is what he [Mo’unga] did. So I think you can do both, regardless of the jersey, personally.”

On Friday night the All Blacks will play a “Game of Three Halves, against Canterbury and Otago at AMI Stadium in Christchurch as part of their preparation for Bledisloe I.

And it appears highly unlikely Jordie Barrett, who played at centre for the Hurricanes, will feature in the midfield in tests.

“We certainly see him as a back-three player, definitely,” Foster added. “I thought he struggled a bit in the midfield, when he went in there early and at the end of the campaign he looked a little bit more settled.

“It is clear he can play there, but for us he is a back-three player.”

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