Updated: Jan 24
Written by Max Sharp.
The 10 jersey made famous by the likes of Grant Fox and Dan Carter has only been worn by three players since Ian Foster inherited the Head Coach role from Steve Hansen. Hansen gave debuts to Beauden Barrett in 2012, Damian McKenzie in 2016 and Richie Mo’unga in 2018.
This 2021 Season Review of these three players paints a worrying picture, in stark contrast to the country's history with the position.
Mo’unga, who has 32 test caps to his name, has started in the 10 jersey in 22 tests. He has played 937 minutes of test rugby since Foster became the Head Coach, only 12 of those minutes have been in another position.
The 2020-21 All Blacks Depth Chart has seen Mo’unga play 55.1% of the minutes at 10, Barrett has played 38% and McKenzie, at only 116 minutes, has played 6.9% of the minutes available at first-five.
(First-Five Depth Chart 2020-2021)
McKenzie, as many Chiefs fans would concur, is a fullback, he just so happens to have excellent distribution skills and goal-kicking, which won back-to-back games for his club in 2021. This means that although McKenzie is a naturally gifted player, he can be left out of the equation when selectors come to picking a first-five who will control the game at test level.
The mainstream media have long written about the Barrett vs Mo’unga battle, while the All Blacks selectors have switched between the two players on a frequent basis, since Mo’unga made his international debut.
While I myself don’t see Barrett as a first-five at all, based on his career statistics; he’s had a long career, the selectors do indeed see him as a 10.
This means their first and second-choice players at 10 are clear cut, but with the 2023 Rugby World Cup fast-approaching, selectors must consider a re-call to Josh Ioane, or to give a test debut to a youngster such as Kaleb Trask (Chiefs) or Aidan Morgan (Hurricanes). Ruben Love (also Hurricanes) is fast-transforming from a fullback and into a first-five, there will surely soon be calls for him to wear a black jersey.
If Trask, Morgan or Love are to debut for the All Blacks soon, who will they be expected to play behind? I’d expect to see it be Mo’unga, who is sure to take back the throne as the All Black number 10. Mo'unga's points-scoring rate blows all competitors out of the water.
Mo'unga lining up a shot at goal vs Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium, 2019 (Photo by Max Sharp)
Mo’unga has averaged 11.86 points per test he’s started in, having amassed 261 points from the 22 tests he’s started in, his 10 tests off the bench have only seen him score 14 points. Had he not played against Australia (Wellington, 2020) and France (2021), Mo’unga would have averaged 13.05 points per test he’s started. 13.05 points per test is near Dan Carter-esque. Of the 31 players known to have scored over 600 test points, only four have averaged 13 or more points per game, Carter of course topping the list with an average of 14.27 points per test.
Mo’unga and Barrett however, will never finish their careers with such an astounding points rate higher than Carter's, it’s likely that no long-term rugby player ever will.
Beauden Barrett had played 36 tests and scored 145 points, by the end of 2015. This means he has scored 558 points from 65 tests since the start of 2016. Since 2016, Barrett’s average points per test has been 8.58, while he has scored 30 tries since the start of 2016.
Barrett’s lack of points scored from 2012-15 almost definitely distorts his career points-scoring rate, meaning the best way to find a points differential between Barrett and Mo’unga is to compare their points’ scoring rates as of 2016, while removing their tries scored from this points tally.
Mo’unga’s points scoring rate without tries is 10.04 points per test started.
Barrett’s point scoring rate without tries (since 2016) is 6.27 points per test started.
Barrett converting a try by Anton Lienert-Brown against Australia, Westpac Stadium, 2016. Photo: Max Sharp.
Conclusions we can draw from insights into these points records, is firstly, that Barrett’s time spent at fullback has lowered his career points tally, while Mo’unga has a far more accurate boot off the tee. While Foster believes Barrett to be a superior rugby player, Mo’unga is undisputedly the better 10.
While a 10 does not inherently have to be a master goal-kicker, it’s preferable, the first-five, being the usual first-receiver at set piece, is in the best field position to attempt drop goals in an opposition half.
With fullback being a far more competitive position in New Zealand, it’s perhaps best for Jordie Barrett to focus on his tactical kicking and his form, rather than kicks at goal, focus in these aspects of the game will allow for him to continue producing the form which allowed him to become the world’s best fullback in 2021. If Jordie Barrett isn’t going to kick goals for the All Blacks, look no further than Richie Mo’unga.
The confusion around who will start at 10, which began from Mo’unga’s parental leave in the Rugby Championship, as well as the lack of genuine replacements for Mo’unga and Barrett, means that the first-five has become possibly the All Blacks’ most vulnerable position. If these two players were to be injured at the World Cup, you’d likely be turning to either a fullback, or an uncapped Kaleb Trask to become a key decision maker in the team. Hopefully this dreaded situation won't become reality.
Final Grade: F