We look at the crucial half-back battles as the Crusaders and Hurricanes do battle in the Super Rugby semi-finals, live on Sky Sports on Saturday.
There will be collisions all over the pitch as the top two Kiwi sides collide in the penultimate round of the competition, but the biggest showdown will no doubt be between the half-backs.
Beauden Barrett lines up opposite Richie Mo’unga, who appears to be rising up the ranks as the next in line to the All Blacks’ fly-half throne. TJ Perenara wears the No 9 jersey for the Hurricanes, while Bryn Hall takes on the scrum-half duties for the eight-time champion Crusaders.
Richie Mo’unga v Beauden Barrett
0:32 Beauden Barrett v Richie Mo'unga will be a crucial showdown in Christburch
Perhaps surprisingly, Mo’unga edges Barrett in several key areas of open play in Super Rugby this season. The Crusaders pivot has only played 10 games to Barrett’s 15, but still has more clean breaks (14 to 13) made more offloads (13 to 9), more try assists (8 to 7), and has beaten considerably more defenders with ball in hand (35 to 23).
Mo’unga also kicks out of hand far less than his counterpart; Barrett has put boot to ball 123 times in general play, while Mo’unga has done so 68 times.
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However, in the goal-kicking department Barrett has the edge, boasting an 82 per cent success rate from the tee, while Mo’unga’s is 76 per cent. Knock-out rugby often comes down to kicks at goal, so that stat may be the most crucial of them all.
Bryn Hall v TJ Perenara
The scrum-halves are tougher to separate in terms of the stats, but unlike their half-back partners they have played a similar amount of Super Rugby this season.
Hall has scored more tries (6 to 4) while Perenara has set up more (6 to 5). The Hurricanes half-back is better in defenders beaten (10 to 4) and offloads (7 to 3), but Hall has a slight superiority in clean breaks (11 to 10).
Both scored tries in their respective quarter-finals last week, with Hall scoring the opener against the Sharks, while Perenara crossed twice against the Chiefs.
What the Sky Sports pundits say
Sean Fitzpatrick sees Mo’unga as the man to deputise for Barrett as New Zealand’s starting No 10.
“Beauden Barrett is undoubtedly Steve Hansen’s first-choice fly-half,” said Fitzpatrick. “And Damian McKenzie is the player to make an impact off the bench.
“I don’t see Richie Mo’unga taking McKenzie’s place among the replacements, McKenzie for me will remain an impact player, and Mo’unga will be moulded into Barrett’s understudy to start games when Barrett is unavailable – in the same way they All Blacks have given game time to Scott Barrett in the second row.
“The Hurricanes haven’t quite been at the standard they have set in recent seasons, and Beauden Barrett will be the key man to get them back to the form they need in order to beat the Crusaders.”
Michael Lynagh says it’s the contrasting styles of Barrett and Perenara that makes them such a difficult combination for opposition teams to deal with.
“Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara are two very different people,” said Lynagh. “Perenara is a high-energy player who gets in the opposition players’ faces, while Barrett is a calm, assured presence. They complement each other very well.
“When you look at the Hurricanes backline, it’s special. Ben Lam on the wing is someone I think is extraordinary, then you have Nehe Milner-Skudder at full-back – it’s an amazing team.
“It’s the old adage; if they can get enough ball from the forwards they can really cause problems for the opposition.”
The Crusaders have seven internationals in their pack in comparison with the Hurricanes’ two, but Lynagh says the men from Wellington won’t let that intimidate them on Saturday.
“The Crusaders may have more All Blacks among their forwards, but you don’t make it to the semi-finals of Super Rugby without a good pack, so the Hurricanes are no pushover,” said Lynagh.
“The Crusaders seem to have got everything packed down, but if there is one team in Super Rugby who can go down to Christchurch and beat the Crusaders on their home turf in a knock-out game, the Hurrcianes would be that team.
“It’s going to be a great game, there are so many good players on show.”
Fitzpatrick says there is more on the line than a place in the Super Rugby final.
“These are the two best teams in the competition, and the two best No 10s, so Saturday will be like an All Blacks trial. All the players will be keen to show what they can do ahead of the Rugby Championship squad announcement next month.”
Crusaders v Hurricanes is live on Sky Sports Action and Sky Sports Main Event from 8.15am on Saturday