No Mo'unga for Canterbury

Richie Mo'unga will probably still be digesting his lunch somewhere in Brisbane when Canterbury run out for their Mitre 10 Cup semifinal against North Harbour on Saturday afternoon.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Thursday confirmed Mo'unga, called into the squad as injury cover ahead of Saturday night's third Bledisloe Cup test, would not return to Christchurch to play for the red and blacks. 

The All Blacks, who have opted to start Lima Sopoaga and for fullback Damian McKenzie to provide first-five cover in Beauden Barrett's concussion forced absence, indicated earlier in the week Mo'unga would be released if he didn't make the match-day 23.

However, the 23-year-old will now remain with the team in case Sopoaga or McKenzie go down before the All Blacks attempt to whitewash the Wallabies 3-0. 

"He is going to stay because Beauden [Barrett] is going to go home. We will need some back-up, so we have to revise the plan of sending Richie home. Because Beauden is going home instead," Hansen said. 

Confirmation Mo'unga won't be released at least allows Canterbury coach Glenn Delaney to move forward with certainly that rookie Brett Cameron will wear the No 10 jersey.

Delaney hasn't heard diddly-squat from the All Blacks since Mo'unga jumped on a plane to Brisbane at the start of the week, but had been preparing to go without the competition's leading points scorer (135) all week.  

"We were never told at the start of the week that he may be released, so we had to plan for it all," Delaney said

"We are as we were at the start of the week, unfortunately, but it is what it is. We've prepped for it and that's all we can do."

While Mo'unga will no doubt get plenty from spending a week with the All Blacks, North Harbour are clearly the big winners from his unavailability. 

They'll relish the chance to get a crack at the reigning champions without their gun pivot, who has carried his outstanding Super Rugby form into the domestic season.

Delaney will on Friday name his team to play North Harbour at AMI Stadium, and said rookie wing Josh McKay, who played most of his schoolboy rugby for Christchurch Boys' High School at first-five eighth, and midfielder Tim Bateman will cover Cameron.

"When we planned our squad out, we looked at all the contingencies and we're pretty comfortable," Delaney said. 

"[Brett] has had his little foot in the water and he's been in our environment for a season and understands what it's all about, knows how it works. He'll be just fine." 

The uncertainty around a key player ahead of a NPC semifinal isn't new.

Last year, Counties Manukau fans were sweating on the availability of halfback Augustine Pulu, who was called into the All Blacks in the aftermath of the Aaron Smith toilet tryst at Christchurch Airport. 

Pulu didn't make the 23 for the Bledisloe Cup match in Auckland and was originally bracketed in Counties' team, but was released by the All Blacks in time to make it to Christchurch for the semifinal. 

​"We're really proud of Richie, that's the overlying thing," Delaney said.  "We're delighted he's over there with them. It's just reward for a couple of fantastic seasons."


Photo by: PHOTOSPORT (Caption: Canterbury first-five eighth Richie Mo'unga)