Wallabies backrower Pete Samu says long-time Crusaders teammate Richie Mo'unga deserves to start for the All Blacks in the opening Bledisloe Test next week.
Flyhalf Mo’unga has been firmly down a pecking order headed by Beauden Barrett when it comes to Test selections but was arguably the form Super Rugby player in 2018.
The 24-year-old has now helped the Crusaders to consecutive Super Rugby titles, after stepping into the shoes of New Zealand legend Dan Carter.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen appears reluctant to throw Mo’unga into the starting fray ahead of Barrett and even hinted this week that he may struggle to squeeze into the 23 at all.
Samu, who is set to join the Brumbies in 2019, has played alongside Mo’unga at the Crusaders for the past three seasons and said he deserved the chance to start for the All Blacks.
“He's been playing some outstanding footy and I think it will be deserving (for) him to be starting in that 10 jersey for that first Test,” he said.
“It'd be also special to run up against him if I get the chance.”
Samu had no hesitation in endorsing Mounga’s credentials under pressure, having watched him up close in Super Rugby.
“I think when it comes to big games he goes up another couple of levels and he's a real good leader as well,” he said.
“I think put him in any situation and he'll take it with both hands.”
Samu said there was no easy way to shut down the enigmatic Mo’unga either.
“He's quite unpredictable, he's got some crazy feet and he's got a good pass on him, maybe if we shut down his time and space we might do alright,” he said.
Samu comes into the Wallabies’ Bledisloe camp with a uniquely intimate knowledge of the current All Blacks, having played in a pack with a handful of the Test incumbents on his way to a second Super Rugby title.
When the Melbourne-born Samu came into the Aussie fold for the first time in June, he still had a Super Rugby campaign to finish with the Crusaders but he won’t be precious about protecting any secrets this time around.
Only two days ago he was still celebrating with teammates who will become his foes in nine days’ time, but he wasn’t shy in starting some pre-Bledisloe banter.
“I've been throwing a bit of chat before I left so get the mind games started already so should be good,” he laughed.
“It was definitely tough leaving the boys and the place. There was definitely a few tears shed on those last few days and it was real tough but it's good I get to still catch up with them.
“I hope I can bring something back from over there and help out where I can (wth the Wallabies).
“So, there's no more secrets.”
One thing he knows for sure is that All Blacks skipper Kieran Read will be no wounded warrior when he runs out on ANZ Stadium next Saturday.
Read missed a large chunk of the season after undergoing spinal surgery but returned to feature in the Crusaders’ run to a second-straight title.
Samu said the no. 8 didn’t miss a beat in his Super Rugby comeback, a remarkable reflection of his quality even at 32.
“He is an awesome leader and awesome rugby player but also just a good guy off the field,” he said.
“He's really easy to talk to and he's helped out a lot over the years I've been over there.
“It's good to see him back running again - he's been out with a long injury and he's back playing at his best I think.
“He pretty much found his feet back to his playing ways, it’s like he wasn't out.”
The Wallabies are currently in Cessnock for a pre-Bledisloe camp and will return to Sydney on Sunday ahead of the Bledisloe Test week.
The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the first Bledisoe on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, with the Wallaroos taking on the Black Ferns from 5:15pm AEST as well. Buy tickets here.