All Blacks legend warns NZR over ‘dangerous’ precedent amid Richie Mo’unga talks

Colin Newboult
Richie Mo'unga in action for the All Blacks against the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup final.

Richie Mo'unga in action for the All Blacks against the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup final.

Former All Blacks star Jeff Wilson has warned New Zealand Rugby against going overbudget for players in the wake of their discussions with Richie Mo’unga.

According to general manager of NZ Rugby Chris Lendrum, they are interested in bringing the world-class fly-half back from Japan early.

Mo’unga joined Toshiba Brave Lupus on a three-year contract after the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but Lendrum revealed last week that they have been speaking to the 29-year-old about him potentially returning.

NZR lost out to Toshiba due to the financial power of that competition, with the playmaker citing the ability to provide for his family as a reason for his decision to head north.

Keeping the prized assets

The governing body have been able to keep hold of their players without breaking the bank, but Wilson is concerned that the situation could change if the powers that be slip up in their desperation to stop individuals from going overseas.

While the 50-year-old would like to see the best players available for the All Blacks, he believes that paying over the odds for Mo’unga or any other person could wreak havoc further down the line.

“There’s always a danger when you break a ceiling and when you start paying up there because expectations for other players change as well, and then the demand and the pressure that comes on your ability to pay those players (increases),” he told The Breakdown.

“You go through that ceiling, and that’s where you would have to go to keep Richie Mo’unga. To me, it’s done, the decision’s been made.

“It’s up to him now. If he wants to come home, he should come home. If he wants to carry on playing (in Japan), we push on with what we’ve got here, who are committed, who are all-in.”

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Fellow All Blacks great Mils Muliaina had a slightly different take on the matter, insisting that the talk surrounding Mo’unga has been generated due to a perceived lack of depth at fly-half.

“He’s a special player, first and foremost, and do you think he’s going to make a difference if he was back in that Crusaders outfit? Do you think he would make a difference back in the All Blacks?” he said.

“I think he’s been brought up in the conversation because of how light we actually are. (Stephen) Perofeta being injured hasn’t helped because you would have wanted him to grow a little bit.

“It’s who backs up Damian McKenzie. Do we need him? I think there’s an element that we do.

“Should we have let him go? Financially, could we have actually put something in front of him to perhaps tie him into staying another year?”

Rugby World Cup implications

Fellow panellist Sir John Kirwan appeared to disagree with Muliaina, insisting that extending his contract by an extra year might not have benefited the All Blacks in the long-term.

Mo’unga would have had the option to depart at the end of 2024, with a three-year deal from 2025 ruling him out of the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Under Kirwan’s laissez-faire approach, the 59-year-old believes that it gives NZR the option to tempt him back ahead of the next global tournament in Australia.

“I think if you’re going to let him go, let him go now and try and get him back at the end. If you try and keep him here, he’s going to try and compromise,” he said.

“He’s going to go and get his couple of million and all of a sudden after two years, he might be going, ‘Okay, I’ve done pretty well, I’ve had some time with the family, I’ve still got the hunger.’

“That’s what it needs to be; the hunger to win a World Cup in the All Black jersey and go down as a great.”

READ MORE: Scott Robertson indicates NZR are targeting another Japan-based player after Richie Mo’unga talks