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Why Mo'unga-Barrett conversation is different in 2019

Richie Mo'unga enters the 2019 Super Rugby season having dominated the tournament the last two years Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Looking at the way the Crusaders have dominated Super Rugby over the last two years, you would expect much of the same from them in 2019.

Richie Mo'unga has really matured and, looking back throughout the 22 years of the competition, it's the teams with dominant first five-eighths that have lifted the trophy.

But it also has to do with the forward pack. It is one thing having a really good 10 but if he doesn't have a solid platform in front of him, one that provides front-foot ball and owns set-piece, then even the most talented of No. 10s tend not to shine.

The two key components that have made the Crusaders so good over the last two years are, firstly they, have the best forward pack and, secondly, they've got a fly-half who is just absolutely electric and dangerous; he is proving to be the complete player.

Throughout much of Super Rugby last year and on into the Test season, there was talk of Mo'unga replacing Beauden Barrett at first five-eighth in the All Blacks. That talk was a bit early I feel because Barrett was the best player in the world at the time.

But this year I feel it is different. There's another year of experience for Mo'unga; he hasn't really put a foot wrong and he's already applied that pressure. Going into the Rugby World Cup pressure inside the All Blacks camp is great. That's what we want, it brings out the best in people.

Beauden Barrett will be feeling that pressure. He's the sort of player that you know will relish it. I think it's a good thing.

Damian McKenzie is another one. I saw recently that he was finding it hard to wind down and have a break because there was so much expectation on 2019. But what these guys really do need is to get a break, to let down and then come into the season fresh. If you come in a little stale and tired, it is going to take a little while before you hit your straps and get over that.

Barrett is one player having an extended rest as he enjoys his honeymoon, while Codie Taylor, Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock won't return to Super Rugby until March.

I'm sure they will have had a good break, but you can't escape pressure, you've just got to push it to one side; it is always in the back of the mind. While everything they are working on at the moment will be geared towards Super Rugby it is very, very hard not to look beyond it.

Form is everything, especially in the middle to late part of the season.

It is going to be a really big year. The Crusaders will obviously be tough to beat once again. One interesting feature of their year will be Kieran Read's announcement about his departure at the end of the season. The effect of that may be that the pressure of expectation comes off him, he is able to relax knowing that scrutiny is sorted, and then I think we could see the best of him.

He's not going to want to bow out without another Super Rugby title or a Rugby World Cup. A back injury like he had last year is a terrible injury for any athlete because you literally can't do anything. If your back is out all your limbs don't work and if you do anything you feel it with your back. It's a horrible injury, much like the neck and the whole spine really.

Sam Cane is another one who will be struggling to do anything but rehab. That's the most important thing and rugby players don't like the rest part of rehab. They tend to like keep moving and doing something, I'm sure he is a bear with a sore head at the moment.

But Read has done bloody well to come back, not only to recover from the surgery but to recapture the form that made him the world's best. You don't get a bigger year than this one and he will be keen to make the most of it.

Even bigger for him is that he doesn't only go into the World Cup as an All Black, it will be the first time he goes in as an All Black captain and that's the biggest honour you can ever bestow on a player.

Across all the franchises there is some really good talent and in a World Cup year there are no guarantees for places, it is the young players who hit form that create the excitement. At World Cups you don't just go with the tried and tested.

Occasionally there is a bolter. Jonah Lomu was a bolter in 1995 and that was where he made a name for himself. When he was picked it was out of him or Norm Berryman, may they both rest in peace, but those bolters add to the excitement and unpredictability.

The opposition don't know who they are; Nehe Milner-Skudder was an example from 2015.

But there is a whole bunch of young talent inside the Crusaders' camp and throughout the rest of the franchises who, as part of a good team, can put their hands up for this World Cup.

The other thing of interest for me is the midfield pairing for the Blues. That's going to put pressure on everyone because Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams are a pretty experienced pair and they have well performed first-fives inside them in Otere Black and Stephen Perofeta.

The important thing for Leon MacDonald with the Blues is getting the forward pack operating. If you follow the Crusaders example and can create a pack that teams are scared of, then the Blues have certainly got the backline to do some damage.

It has been interesting to see the trend that has emerged of players going overseas, especially backs, but it is not necessarily the end of them. Nonu is one example but Marty Banks for the Highlanders is another.

A lot of players don't enjoy it when they go overseas but if they are young enough and fit enough to make Super Rugby when they come back then that is good to see.