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Flyhalves back in the spotlight in Super Rugby round 13

May 13, 2019
FILE - In this July 28, 2018, file photo, the Hurricanes' flyhalf Beauden Barrett, left, kicks at the ball as the Crusaders' flyhalf Richie Mo'unga watches during their Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch, New Zealand. The importance of flyhalves to success in Super Rugby is well documented over the tournament's 23-year history. The influence of flyhalves on matches this 2019 season, demonstrated again in the weekend's 13th round, heavily underscores the established truth of their influence. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The importance of flyhalves to success in Super Rugby is well documented over the tournament’s 23-year history.

The list of championship-winning No. 10s is also a roll call of some of the best players in the history of the game: Carlos Spencer, Andrew Mehrtens, Stephen Larkham, Morne Steyn, Dan Carter and, more recently, Beauden Barrett. Others, such as Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Cruden, Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley, are also exceptional and integral to the success of their teams.

That’s the nature of the role. More often than not flyhalves take the kicks at goal and for that reason Carter, Barrett, Steyn, Foley and the Lions’ Elton Jantjes are among six players to have scored more than 1,000 Super Rugby points. Brumbies center Stirling Mortlock is the only interloper among that elite group.

Flyhalves also have the responsibility of guiding their teams around the field and are especially critical in the implementation of any game plan. The ball passes through their hands more than almost any other player and their decisions can make or break their teams.

That doesn’t mean that flyhalves operate in airy isolation. All roles in rugby are symbiotic, each depends on the other and flyhalves are often only as good as the forward packs they play behind.

But the influence of flyhalves on matches this season, demonstrated again in the weekend’s 13th round, heavily underscores the established truth of their influence.

The most obvious instance was in the match between the defending champion and tournament-leading Crusaders and the South Africa conference-leading Bulls. Crusaders and All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo’unga contributed two tries among 20 points to his team’s 45-13 win in Pretoria.

Mo’unga missed the Crusaders’ previous match against the Sharks in which his replacement, Mitch Hunt, scored and converted a try after the fulltime siren to snatch a 21-21 draw. In that match Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch kicked seven penalties.

Bosch demonstrated with his performance in that match and against the Chiefs last Saturday that he is more than just a goal-kicker.

Mo’unga also missed the match against the New South Wales Waratahs in which the Crusaders sustained their only loss of the season so far and their first in more than a year. He has made it clear he is indespensible to the Crusaders’ bid to win a third-straight Super Rugby title and he may be pressing Barrett for the No. 1 flyhalf role in the All Blacks squad this season.

But Crusaders assistant coach, former Ireland flyhalf Ronan O’Gara, has urged Mo’unga to be patient.

“No, you don’t (make Mo’unga No. 1) because Beauden is playing exceptional rugby and he has so much credit in the bank,” O’Gara said. “Obviously, you’ve got to respect that, and I respect that because that’s what you are when you’re a No. 1 and you perform so well for your country over a serious period of time.

“What you need to win a World Cup is you need two really good guys in the same position. Richie offers that and obviously Beauden has the capacity to play other positions as well.”

Barrett played a prominent role in the Hurricanes’ 22-12 win over the Blues on Friday, scoring an intercept try to help his team clinch another win achieved with a tiny share of possession. Barrett’s performances are more impressive because he plays behind a struggling forward pack.

Rookie flyhalf Josh Ioane produced another mature performance in the Highlanders’ 32-27 win over the Jaguares, while Shaun Reynolds kicked a late penalty — his first Super Rugby point — to clinch the Lions’ 29-28 win over the Waratahs.

Quade Cooper was less fortunate, sustaining an injury in the Rebels’ win over the Queensland Reds after saying that he feels “physically and mentally wrecked” by Super Rugby.

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