WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Canterbury Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga will have a big target on his back in Saturday’s clash with the British and Irish Lions after assistant coach Leon MacDonald compared him to All Blacks great Daniel Carter.
Carter is a three times World Player of the Year and twice World Cup winner and is considered one of the greatest flyhalves to have played the game.
The Lions play the Crusaders at Rugby League Park in Christchurch in the third stop of their tour 10-match tour and MacDonald said Mo’unga had the temperament to deal with such a big game despite being only 23.
“There is a lot of Dan Carter in Richie Mo’unga,” MacDonald told reporters in Christchurch on Friday.
“Very rarely do you see him rattled at all, at any level. He’s very casual, he enjoys a laugh, he’s a bit of a joker and I think you need that temperament as a 10 because there’s a lot of pressure.
“He doesn’t seem to be fazed and for a young guy to control a team like the Crusaders, with a lot of big personalities, a lot of big strong men who have played a lot of rugby - to run the ship as confidently as he does at his age is a real credit to him.”
Mo’unga broke into the Canterbury provincial team in 2013, his first year out of secondary school, but did not take the step up to the Crusaders until two years later.
He was named as part of the team’s wider training group that year with Carter and fellow All Blacks Colin Slade and Tom Taylor ahead of him. When that trio departed after the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Mo’unga was thrust into the starting role for the seven-times champions last year.
He took his time to find his feet at the next level but about halfway through last season Mo’unga appeared to have grown accustomed the pace of the game and he began to take control of the team.
This season, under new coach Scott Robertson, Mo’unga has sparked a far more creative Crusaders backline, with the side having scored 74 tries in Super Rugby this season, second only to the Wellington Hurricanes.
Despite talking up Mo’unga’s contribution, MacDonald was also keen not to build expectations he could produce a performance like Carter’s in the second Lions test in 2005 when he scored 33 points in the All Blacks’ 48-18 victory.
“I don’t want to put pressure on Richie and say there’s Dan Carter performance brewing tomorrow, but there are similarities to his game,” MacDonald said.
“Richie has had a fantastic year for us. He reviews his performances really harshly. He’s tough on himself and wants to be better but he has a nice balance in his life.
“I think he’s going to get better and better and at one stage we’ll see him in a black jersey.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford