Barrett relishes Mo’unga rivalry for All Blacks fly-half jersey

Beauden Barrett described his rivalry with Richie Mo’unga as “healthy competition” on Thursday after being awarded the coveted 10 jersey for the All Blacks’ weekend Test against Fiji in Dunedin.

Barrett — sporting two black eyes as a result of “friendly fire” from Ethan Blackadder in training — resumes his partnership with scrum-half and new captain Aaron Smith.

The debate over who is the better fly-half has raged in New Zealand since Barrett, a double World Player of the Year when he was the All Blacks number one fly-half, was mainly used at fullback in 2019 and 2020 when New Zealand produced a 10-15 dual playmaker game.

But he returned to New Zealand this year after a season in Japan determined again to command the fly-half role and after taking the field off the bench in last week’s Test against Tonga he has won the starting position against Fiji.

Mo’unga, who started against Tonga, is not even in the reserves with Damian McKenzie supplying cover.

“What I know is I’ve got a healthy competition here,” Barrett said when questioned about the much-hyped rivalry.

Mo’unga’s elusive running and more reliable goalkicking has steered the Canterbury Crusaders to five Super Rugby titles but he has not dominated at Test level in the same way.

Barrett is seen as the more astute tactician with an explosive turn of pace.

While Barrett said he did not follow media debate, when Mo’unga was selected to start against Tonga, he revealed the pair had discussed the issue.

– ‘Elephant in the room’ –

Headlines have included “What Richie Mo’unga must do to keep Beauden Barrett out of the All Blacks No 10 jersey”, “Clash of the Tens: Barrett v Mo’unga”, “Wallabies coach Dave Rennie says All Black Richie Mo’unga is ‘the world’s best No 10’,” and “Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett set to tussle for No 10 spot.”

Mo’unga said the pair had addressed “the elephant in the room” and agreed neither player was bigger than the team.

“For me, if he’s wearing the 10 jersey this week, it’s about how can I best prepare him? How can I best prepare the team to go out there and perform? It’s putting your ego on the hook,” Mo’unga said.

“It’s a big challenge to know that I’ve got someone like Baz (Barrett) wanting the same jersey as me, it’s motivating, it’s inspiring; it’s not an unhealthy challenge, I must say.”

With coach Ian Foster having three quality fullbacks at his disposal this year — McKenzie, Jordie Barrett and Will Jordan — the pressure is on Beauden Barrett and Mo’unga to battle it out for the fly-half role and Barrett said that could only be for the good of the All Blacks.

“Whoever’s starting, we always try to make each other better, prepare each as best we can for the weekend so that won’t change in the weeks to come,” Barrett said.

“Ultimately, it’s about being the best for the team and healthy competition is good in this team.”

The All Blacks’ starting lineup features 13 changes from the side that trounced Tonga 102-0 last weekend.

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