The Lions have been warned they will face the new Dan Carter in Christchurch on Saturday.
Crusaders assistant coach Leon MacDonald has likened Richie Mo’unga to All Blacks great Carter and backed the fly-half to outshine his Lions counterpart Owen Farrell.
The 23-year-old has been outstanding at provincial level this year, but MacDonald’s high praise adds to the talk sparked by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, who refuted Warren Gatland’s claim that the Super Rugby sides the Lions face will be on par with the All Blacks’ Test team.
Gatland’s side are looking to redeem themselves following defeat to the Blues earlier in the week, but former Kiwi full-back MacDonald believes Mo’unga could control the game.
MacDonald sees parallels between the rising star and the veteran Carter and holds no worries over the former losing his composure in the heat of battle.
MacDonald said: “There’s a lot of Dan Carter about Richie Mo’unga. Owen Farrell and Conor Murray are definitely very good players, they are world class. But very rarely do you see Richie rattled, if at all, at any level.
“He’s pretty casual, he enjoys a laugh, he’s a bit of a joker – and I think you need that temperament as a 10 because there’s a lot of pressure.”
MacDonald featured in the 2005 Tests that launched Carter’s status into the stratosphere and he does not believe the heat of the battle will take its toll on Mo’unga.
He added: “I watched the sailors (in the Americas Cup) this morning, and I saw ice cold veins under immense pressure – and that’s Richie.
“He just doesn’t seem to be phased, and for a young guy to control a team like the Crusaders, where there’s a lot of big personalities, big strong men who play a lot of rugby, for a long period of time to have run the ship as confidently as he does, that’s real credit to him.”
Lions supporters have expressed worries over the lack of cohesion and creativity on display so far during the tour, but the Crusaders have no such concerns when it comes to scoring tries.
They have been in rampant domestic form, winning all 14 of their Super Rugby fixtures this season, a feat which Mo’unga has been central to.
He has scored 281 points from just 25 appearances, a level of efficiency that MacDonald believes will lead to him graduating from the U20s national team to possibly replacing Carter as the fulcrum of the All Blacks machine.
MacDonald said: “Richie’s had a fantastic year for us. He bounces back well from injury, he’s really resilient, he reviews his performances very harshly, he’s very tough on himself and he always wants to be better.
“He’s just going to get better and better and at some stage we’ll see him in a black jersey.”