Rugby World Cup: Richie Mo'unga lifts lid on the formula for resurgent All Blacks - Sky
Star playmaker Richie Mo’unga has challenged the resurgent All Blacks to follow up their Italy explosion with something even more impressive as this Rugby World Cup nears the business end.
Mo’unga, who says he’s desperate to roll out again at No 10 after the 14-try demolition of Italy, believes it’s important the New Zealanders wrap up pool play in France in style when they run out against the plucky Uruguay side in Lyon on Friday (8am NZT).
Any sort of a victory guarantees the All Blacks a quarterfinal spot, likely to be as Pool A runnersup if the tournament hosts close out successfully against Italy a night later. Everything we saw last Friday evening at OL Stadium suggests that shouldn’t be beyond them.
But for the All Blacks now, with that first-up 27-13 defeat to France fading into the ether, it’s about going back to back to back (a la the Rugby Championship earlier this year) with another high-quality performance. More importantly, adds Mo’nga, it’s about dipping into that DNA that allows them to play with the ebullience that lit up the Italians.
“A big part of what we’re about this year is our DNA and what we hang our hat on as a team,” he said. “It’s nothing special or nothing secret – winning dominance in our carries and cleans sets us up to play eyes-up footy which we’re really good at. Also relying on our forwards to execute and put pressure on their set piece. As we saw at the weekend, that can put us in good parts of the field, and gives us backs opportunities.
“That’s become a big driver. You see games where we haven’t performed well, penalties and set piece and getting stuck in the wrong areas of the field have been the main problems.”
Mo’unga, who nailed his first nine shots at goal before a solitary miss from wide, said a lot went into the offensive expression against the Italians with a two-week buildup, and that has to be maintained with this week’s short turnaround. “We’d worked on some big blocks of our game and you saw the outcome for our set piece. When we get lightning quick ball, and ball going forward, we’re a pretty hard team to stop.”
But if there’s a theme to this week it might be something like, “don’t mention the quarterfinals”. The All Blacks have slipped on the proverbial blinkers as they attempt to put the prospect of the big-time matchup with Ireland to one side.
“The reality is we have to get this right to get to next week,” he added. “We don’t have a quarterfinal booked. The focus of the team is this week and this week only. It’s being really obsessed with today and what that looks like. Then tomorrow. We know the threats Uruguay pose and how hard they’ve pushed really good teams (France won their pool clash 27-12). Those who get the chance to play will be desperate to put in an awesome performance.
“To go back to back with dominant performances means a lot to us, and not being satisfied with Italy, taking that next step and building on that. Otherwise all that hard work will be undone.”
Veteran midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown believes the All Blacks have risen out of the rubble of the French defeat in Paris.
“We worked really hard in Bordeaux and also the week leading up to Italy,” he said. “I guess when you have disappointment it drives you to work really hard. It drives you to change a few things. It was good to reap the rewards in that game. I know there’s still a lot of work to do, but I think it can be the launching pad to better things.”
But, he added, lessons learned the last few years meant it was reasonably easy to refocus and move on.
“It’s important to bring yourself back down to earth. The biggest thing is we’ve got to focus on getting better. Every week, every training, every game is an opportunity to get better. I don’t think we’re necessarily outcome focused either. We want outcomes, but how you get those is from little habits you do every day. There’s plenty of drive to do that from what we’ve been through.”
Lienert-Brown, meanwhile, paid a massive tribute to stand-in skipper Ardie Savea who was brilliant against Italy and looks to have found form at the right time of this World Cup.
“It’s hugely inspiring,” he said of the No 8’s “follow-me” leadership. “He’s one of the best players in the world. There are different types of leaders, but one of the important things is you perform out on the field. Ardie does that in bucketloads every time, and he was pretty special on Friday night.”