Richie Mo’unga signs mega deal in Japan to leave All Blacks exposed beyond 2023 Rugby World Cup, Steve Hansen picks France as favourites

Rugby Australia is by no means the only Southern Hemisphere nation experiencing the player drain, with New Zealand Rugby copping a blow by losing Richie Mo’unga to a three-year deal to Japanese rugby.

The 28-year-old, who has played 44 Tests since debuting in 2018, signed a mega deal with Toshiba Brave Lupus worth upwards of $2 million, according to the New Zealand Herald.

He will depart New Zealand following the 2023 World Cup.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity and to be part of the Lupus family I plan on doing everything I can to make Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo the number one team in Japan,” he said in the media release.

“It’s a dream of mine to play rugby overseas and to experience a different culture and I know this will be an amazing experience for my family.”

Richie Mo'unga of the All Blacks celebrates scoring a try during the 2020 Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup match

Richie Mo’unga will leave New Zealand rugby following the 2023 World Cup. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

The playmaker’s departure is a huge blow for the All Blacks.

With Beauden Barrett eyeing a huge deal overseas, having been linked to replacing Finn Russell at Racing 92, the All Blacks risk losing their two premier playmakers. Chiefs star Damian McKenzie is also considering another move overseas, having spent a season playing for Suntory in the Japanese League One tournament.

It means New Zealand could be somewhat exposed in the No.10 jersey in 2024.

Mo’unga said the subject of heading overseas was a “touchy subject” but said the financial security it provided his family was too good to turn down.

The brilliant point guard, who has played 94 matches for the Crusaders and led the Super Rugby giant to six years of success, said the decision to head overseas was made more difficult by the fact he feels he has yet to play to his potential in international rugby .

“Long and hard,” Mo’unga told the New Zealand Herald.

“It’s a really tough decision because I feel like I’m starting to get into my groove around how I want to play, how I see myself fit in the All Blacks jersey and within the team. That makes things really difficult. When I weighed up the chance to make some awesome memories with my family and set them up, that decision was easy.

“It is hard, though, because I feel like what I’ve done in the All Blacks jersey is 60-70 per cent of what I can actually give. I feel I’m hitting my strides now and coming into a World Cup year I can do a lot more, so that makes it really tough.”

Mounga-Barrett

Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett will continue to jostle for the No.10 jersey for the All Blacks in 2023. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

By heading overseas, Mo’unga won’t be eligible for selection.

While he did not rule out returning home to make a late bid for the 2027 World Cup, he expected that new stars would emerge and demand selection.

“It leaves the options there for me before the 2027 World Cup. I can see where my footy is at. The All Blacks are brutal – one person goes and another steps up. I’m expecting that to happen; for guys to fill the role and immediately stamp their mark on it,” Mo’unga added.

“I could stay in Japan or potentially chase the All Blacks jersey if it’s open and I’m ready for that challenge, but I understand it’s not just going to happen.”

Shag sounds warning to New Zealand Rugby

As Sir Steve Hansen anointed France as World Cup favourites, the former All Blacks coach issued a word of warning to New Zealand Rugby to be very careful about making a coaching announcement before the tournament.

Ever since the NZR board announced Ian Foster as Hansen’s replacement, the governing body has watched on as Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has mounted a compelling case to be the next in line.

All the while Foster’s All Blacks side have struggled for consistency, leading to a running debate as to whether he should, firstly, continue as national coach and, secondly, lead the nation beyond the World Cup.

While the All Blacks have historically waited to make a call on their coach until after World Cup campaigns, the compelling case Robertson has mounted has meant they risk losing him overseas if they don’t sign the former New Zealand back-rower.

Assistant coach Ian Foster and head coach Steve Hansen of the All Blacks

Steve Hansen (R) says the New Zealand Rugby must tread carefully with making an All Blacks coaching announcement before the 2023 World Cup. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Hansen said the NZR were caught between a “rock and a hard place” but said any decision to look beyond Foster next year could destabilize their campaign in 2023.

“I think they [NZ Rugby] have to be really aware of the effect of naming a new coach before a World Cup,” Hansen told stuff.co.

“You don’t need the distraction. You don’t want someone distracting, because he’s – if they appoint a new coach – all excited and starts having conversations that aren’t necessarily until after the World Cup.

“And the ironic thing is that if they win the World Cup, what do they do with Ian Foster if they have already appointed someone [else]? So they are in between a rock and a hard place.”

He added: “I think if you are going to name a new coach before the World Cup’s over, then you have got people looking at who is the boss, and looking at two different people.

“That is a possible derailer, and you don’t want that. Then there is the other side of it, we don’t want to lose people. Look, I think they [NZ Rugby] need to sit down and if they make a decision to do it [appoint the next coach before the World Cup]they would have to put some boundaries around what the incumbent coach could and couldn’t do.

“Basically I think he should be told, and then leave it at that until such time as the World Cup is over, and then announce it.”

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson celebrates his 100th game with a win during the Super Rugby Pacific Semi Final match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs at Orangetheory Stadium on June 10, 2022 in Christchurch, New Zealand.  (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson is the favorite to replace Ian Foster as All Blacks coach. Photo: Peter Meecham/Getty Images

Hansen, who was an assistant under Graham Henry when the All Blacks snapped their World Cup drought in 2011 by defeating France before winning the tournament four years later as head coach, said Les Bleus were the favorites in 2023 but added that the pressure of winning at home should not be underestimated.

“I think France probably are the favourites, but that could be a hindrance or add a lot of pressure to them,” Hansen said.

“We knew what that was like in 2011, so you have got to deal with that and all the things that come with playing at home.

But they are playing very well. Ireland have got their own monkey to get off their back, haven’t they? They haven’t really gone that well at World Cups. They are playing good footy at the moment.

“South Africa are always tough, England will be tough and I think the All Blacks are going to be very tough.”

Meanwhile, Hansen reiterated his surprise that England sacked Eddie Jones.

“Well, he’s their most successful coach. So I don’t think they needed to treat him like that, and sack him,” he said.

“It’s pretty close to the World Cup and he was pretty focused on doing well there, and had a very good track record at World Cups.

“However, they have made that decision and that’s their decision based on all their facts and figures. So you just have to get on with it, don’t you?”

British pundit calls for South African teams to be booted out

Veteran British writer Stephen Jones says the South African experiment in the United Rugby Championship is not working and demanded they be booted out of the competition.

After the Covid-19 pandemic saw South Africa’s sides not invited back to the next iteration of Super Rugby, South Africa joined the URC and, by extension, the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup.

Cornal Hendricks of Vodacom Bulls celebrates winning a penalty during the United Rugby Championship Semi-Final match between Leinster and Vodacom Bulls at the RDS Arena in Dublin.  (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Stephen Jones says South Africa should be booted out of Europe and instead play in their local Currie Cup. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

A fortnight after French star Antoine Dupont said European rugby had changed by the arrival of South Africa’s sides, Jones said the experiment should be ended in a column for The Sunday Times.

“Two spectacularly unwieldy measures have been taken in elite rugby in the past two years. Both involve the insertion of South African provincial teams into existing competitions in Europe. Both should be reversed as soon as this season, limping along, comes to an end,” Jones wrote.

“The South African teams should be ejected from all the events. The Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup; and the United Rugby Championship (formerly the Celtic League)…

“It sounds brutal, especially since, after the demise of Super Rugby, the South Africans have no one else to play. But the experiments are facing miserable failure from almost every standpoint.”

Just as Super Rugby faced widespread criticism for expanding rapidly, including into Japan and Argentina, Jones said their inclusion had not been considered.

“The invitations from URC and the European tournaments had good intentions, but they were badly thought through; the events are clunky, hard to follow and the competitions were shaky already,” he wrote.

“The invitations have added to pressure on players and foisted away trips of vast lengths on players of all nations. The key point is the new measures have devalued each event with grossly weakened teams traveling to away games. And the event, critically, throws up pathetically little financial reward.”

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