New Zealand were made to fight hard to quell a spirited Argentina 46-24 in Nelson on Saturday as they remained unbeaten after the third round of the Rugby Championship.
A brief spurt before half-time and again in the closing minutes made the difference as the All Blacks outscored Los Pumas six tries to three.
Here, we analyse the performance of fly-half Richie Mo’unga.
Try assist: 0
Metres made: 33
Defenders beaten: 2
Turnovers conceded: 4
Tackles made: 9
Tackles missed: 2
30 SECOND REPORT
The 24-year-old was rewarded with a first Test start on the back of his glittering displays during the Crusaders recent Super Rugby triumph.
With many Kiwi fans calling for him to start at fly-half ahead of Beauden Barrett in the lead up to the Rugby Championship last month, Mo’unga failed to light up Nelson with his normally consistent passing and kicking game.
Nerves may be one reason for his mixed performance, but this was certainly a chance for him to show why he is considered one of the best No10s in the Southern Hemisphere.
Linked well: His decision making with the ball in hand was solid, with some good short ball options, one of which paved the way for TJ Perenara’s opening try on 30 minutes. He looked confident when taking the ball into hand, linking well and getting his outside backs firing.
Place kicks: One of the sole shining lights from his display was his 87.5 per cent success rate from place kicks (seven out of eight), an area where Barrett’s game certainly needs improving. However, this isn’t enough to warrant a place in the starting line-up on a regular basis.
Defence: His 81 per cent tackle success rate may look solid on paper, but it was his poor defensive read for Ramiro Moyano’s try that will stand out when he reviews his performance early next week.
Nehe Milner-Skudder will have to take some of the blame for stepping off his wing, but Mo’unga and Perenara should really have done better to deny the Jaguares winger skipping through for the Pumas opener. He also conceded four turnovers – all in the first half.
Overall game management: There’s no doubt Mo’unga is a class act but when you play behind the best fly-half in the world, it is always going to be difficult to make a telling impact.
The Christchurch man failed to stamp his authority for large spells of the game, unable to unleash his backline at pace, missing touch twice and knocking on when under pressure early in the second half.
15mins: Moyano picks up the ball and steps his way past Mo’unga and Perenara, making a show of both half-backs. An excellent individual score but a shocker from Mo’unga, in particular, who should have done better to stop the Pumas winger.
30mins: Mo’unga showed serious vision to flick the ball on to Damian McKenzie deep in the Pumas half. The Kiwi forwards gathered and Perenara exploited a gap on the side of the ruck to touch down.
44mins: More nerves from Mo’unga who failed to collect a kick through from Jeronimo de la Fuente, and a result, the Kiwis conceded a five metre scrum. Luckily, the away side failed to make use of this formidable scoring opportunity.
A mixed debut for Mo’unga.
Although his display in the second half far outweighed his poor contribution in the first 40 minutes, the Crusaders man will still be disappointed with his overall performance.
He missed two tackles, failed to make touch twice and conceded four turnovers in the first half alone, mistakes that are likely to give Steve Hansen and Co reason to offer McKenzie a run at No10 later in the tournament.
But, he stepped up after the break, and apart from one knock-on, ran the line well, linked play effectively and showed promise in trying to get his backs in better attacking positions.
It may not have been a consistent showing over the 80 minutes, but the Crusaders superstar will get more chances to prove himself over the next four weeks.
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Dylan Hartley declared himself ready to start after scoring a key try in Northampton’s 25-18 Premiership victory over Harlequins.
Ten minutes after coming on as a third-quarter replacement, Hartley finished the line-out drive that put a dent in the first of Quins’ two fightbacks in a scruffy clash at Franklin’s Gardens.
The England captain’s comeback from a concussion-enforced extended break from the game dating back to March has so far encompassed two competitive matches from the bench, but he is ready to make a full contribution if required.
“There’s always work to do. You can have all the pre-season conditioning but there’s nothing like playing a game. It was good to get some minutes on the board,” Hartley said.
“I rolled my eyes when I saw (hooker) James Fish go down in the first half, a bit like Gloucester last week I thought I’d just be getting a few minutes in the second half.
“I was pretty keen to get on again. It is best when it happens like that when you are least expecting it. It caught me off guard.
“I will be ready for a start whenever the coach picks me for a start. Until then I will support.”
Hartley is expected to be reinstated as England skipper after missing the summer tour to South Africa and against Harlequins he produced a solid 25 minutes in front of Eddie Jones.
☝🏼 Happy Saturday! Who's still buzzing from a first win of the season at the Gardens?! pic.twitter.com/OQxxdvt4V7— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) 8 September 2018
“Dylan could have started against Gloucester last weekend,” Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd said.
“We’ve agreed that we’ll pick players, irrespective of past experience, on form. James Fish was really good for us pre-season.
“Dylan’s had a couple of nice little cameos off the bench, we’ll work out before next Saturday whether it’s the right thing for him to start.
“He’ll always make a contribution, he’s a really good footballer, a fierce competitor, a good leader.”
Northampton had to withstand a late surge from Quins who showed resilience to hit back from 25-11 down to haul themselves within inches of a draw.
“These were the type of games we were losing last season. First game at home, we are off the mark, points on the board,” Hartley said.
Paul Gustard slipped to his first defeat as Harlequins boss, but took heart in the display.
“I was more proud of that performance than the one the week before that we won. We had to fight for things. We tried and showed tenacity and resilience,” Gustard said.
England internationals Joe Marler and Mike Brown missed the game with respective dead leg and hand issues, neither of which are serious.
Bernard Foley was dropped Thursday in a major backline shake-up by the Wallabies, with the Springboks also ringing in the changes for a match they are both desperate to win after recent crushing Rugby Championship defeats.
Australia have lost six of their past seven games, and ceded the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand for the 16th consecutive year after a 40-12 hammering in Auckland and a 38-13 thrashing in Sydney.
The South Africans have not fared as badly but head into the clash in Brisbane on Saturday on the back of a demoralising 32-19 loss to Argentina in Mendoza.
Kurtley Beale was selected to start his first Test in the No.10 jersey since 2014 and tasked with directing the show from fly-half, alongside the experienced Matt Toomua who was promoted to inside centre and will have goalkicking duties.
In a further change to the backs, Israel Folau returns after an ankle injury ruled out him out of the second Bledisloe Cup Test. The star fullback only returned to light training this week.
Key backrower David Pocock also defied the odds to be selected after being in doubt with a neck injury.
Brumbies lock Rory Arnold will start in the second row for his first Test of 2018 while “Tongan Thor” prop Taniela Tupou has overcome a hamstring complaint to take his place on the bench.
Australia and South Africa couldn’t be split in their two encounters last year with a 23-all draw in Perth before a 27-all draw in Bloemfontein.
Springboks coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus also opted for change.
Steven Kitshoff and Bongi Mbonambi form a new front row next to Frans Malherbe, while Tendai Mtawarira and Malcolm Marx are replacements.
Captain Siya Kolisi returns to the blindside flanker role after playing on the opposite side of the scrum against Argentina in Mendoza, with Pieter-Steph du Toit at openside flanker.
Warren Whiteley completes the loose trio at No.8.
Elton Jantjies swaps places at flyhalf with Handre Pollard while Faf de Klerk again starts as scrum-half.
Erasmus also rotated his midfield, which means a first start this year for Damian de Allende, who will resume his centre partnership with Jesse Kriel.
Aphiwe Dyantyi, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux complete the backline.