Sun, 24 Jan 2021

Marvellous Mo'unga doing a 'Pollard' for NZ

13 Jul 2020, 17:40 GMT+10

For around the first two thirds of the high-octane meeting with the Blues, visiting flyhalf Otere Black personally mirrored the general dominance of the visitors over the Crusaders.

The Aucklanders' rapidly maturing No 10 had played a key hand in the two tries to their favour as they opened up a 15-9 lead, his precision, bullet-like passing influential in each dot-down.

But the 'Saders are a famously patient, "80-minute" outfit ... and their own flyhalf Mo'unga was a classic case in point.

Straight from the kick-off after the Blues' second try, he caught them in a briefly complacent, still celebratory mode as he cheekily stabbed it short, collecting the ball himself and making a knife-like break out of an attempted tackle that put the hosts right on the front foot in the visitors' quarter.

Soon he was influential again, his dummy pass before a beautifully-weighted offload to George Bridge creating defensive integrity havoc as reserve scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond romped over.

In the 75th minute, very early in the move that led to Will Jordan's game-killing try, Mo'unga had used his leg strength to burst out of a tackle, while another wickedly delayed pass from him teed up the score.

Throw in the fact that his place-kicking was dead-eye - four penalties and two conversions for 16 personal points - and the All Black flyhalf could look back on a day where his genius came to a slow but eventually quite sublime boil ...


The abrasive intent of the Hurricanes' pack as a collective went a long way to explaining their hard-fought 17-11 triumph over the Highlanders in a blustery Wellington on Sunday.

But open-side flanker Kirifi, I felt, was especially demonic in that regard, combining mobility and athleticism with a natural aggression he shares with the other low-centre-of-gravity Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea.

His first name given to him by his Morne du Plessis-worshipping father in rugby yesteryear, Kirifi was virtually ever-present as a carrier, tackler, ruck-attendee and generally in-your-face character during the first half, in particular.

It was during that period that the 'Canes did much of the groundwork for their win, going to the break 12-0 to the good and largely staying on the front foot for the remainder of the contest.

The 23-year-old seemed to fan out a bit from the contact areas in the second half, losing a little of his prominence, but it was still a full-blooded showing from him.

It was no coincidence that both Kirifi and Savea, the eighth-man, were both given full 80-minute shifts, such was the extent of their nuisance value against the now second-from-bottom Otago team.


Collectively, the rebuilding Waratahs still look a long way short of the juggernaut they were in winning broader Super Rugby in 2014.

The irrepressible Michael Hooper was their captain then, lifting the trophy after a heart-stopping 33-32 showpiece triumph over the Crusaders ... and he remains the key heartbeat of their less reliable 2020 team, even if Rob Simmons has taken the skippering reins.

Hooper, now 28 and also well-established as the Wallabies' skipper, still oozed leadership in several respects at the weekend as the 'Tahs struck back from a worrisome 0-14 deficit just before halftime to repel the returning Western Force 23-14 in a Super Rugby AU tussle at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Apart from his coolness as an experienced customer being decisive in the turnaround drive, Hooper breathed fire on the open-side flank.

He showed appetite as a linking factor in several long-range raids, helped by his ever-impressive pace, but his enviable engine was happy to perform more workhorse-geared functions as well.

Hooper was credited with 16 tackles by the stats monitors, more than any other NSW player, and also boasted the second most carries in the ranks: 12.

That represents a shift well above "yeoman".

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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