Beauden Barrett is the latest example of how the All Blacks ‘lift their game’ when they are presented with a situation where quick changes need to be made.
The All Blacks scored four tries in less than 20-minutes of the Second Test against Wales on Saturday night. Again, the tourists went into the halftime break firmly in with a chance of getting a win. After punishing the home team for costly errors in the opening half, they had an opportunity. In both Test’s played so far, the All Blacks have leaked too much turnover ball at the breakdown. That is just one of the areas the visitors had success in. The home team also had early problems under the high ball, due mostly to poor communication between the back three.
The All Blacks always lift in the second half
In the second halves of these games; be it because Wales simply tired-out after stringing so many phases of attack together (for little result) it saw the same outcome during this period. The All Blacks always lift after the break, a skill that has benefited them on many occasions. During the Second Test in particular, Barrett was a major contributor to the All Blacks four-try onslaught. It proved the winning of the game–even though Wales scored late in the second test. They improved over the final ten minutes, but the result stands.
With all the praise he has received since, it must come as a big sigh of relief for the 25-year old. It wasn’t too long ago that critics were speculating that Barrett may not make the 2016 All Blacks side at all. That was due to the first-five’s struggles at goal kicking during the Super Rugby competition. Barrett missed more kicks than usual over the first 14 rounds of the competition. He didn’t have the impact on the game that was expected. But those same people knew that if head coach Steve Hansen were to leave Barrett out of the Steinlager Series against Wales, it would be counter productive.
If Barrett had not been selected, there would have been a huge gulf left in the side. If Aaron Cruden or Lima Sopoaga had have got injured, who else would they call on? His instincts at pivot are unquestioned. But the in terms of his impact, the back-lines speed too would have taken a significant hit. Blistering pace is one of his assets. Barrett is a very able fullback cover, even though the All Blacks can choose between Ben Smith and Israel Dagg, True, Hansen and his coaching group have great talent to rely on. And in that, Barrett is the perfect fit in the number 15 jersey.
Smith and Dagg will certainly compete for that starting position, but Hansen needed an ‘experienced third’ option. 21-year old Damian McKenzie was simply not ready for such responsibility, so the multi-skilled Barrett is the best option for several roles. McKenzie will benefit from being in the same environment, feeding off Barrett and others. His time will come.
Barrett’s utility is his greatest asset
With 38 All Black caps, Barrett has played the majority of those off of the bench. He has excelled there and has scored ten test tries. In 2014, Barrett was tested as a first-five starter but didn’t impress enough to suggest he was the better option than Cruden. Good, but at that point, he was not the ‘heir apparent’ for Daniel Carter. At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Barrett gained plenty of game-time. He featured six times in pool play and the final stages. ‘Mr Reliable’ and scored a total of 26 points, including a fantastic try in the Grand Final. He stood up, and Hansen was more than satisfied in the Taranaki born utility.
Especially in the second test of this series, Barrett’s role needed to change. No longer would he be required as an impact player off the bench in the last 20-minutes. Due to injury, he had to lead the back line around the park and take control of the match strategy. That included a brand new midfield combination, when Ryan Crotty and Seta Tamanivalu were forced to pair up for the first time. That was due to an injury that Malakai Fekitoa suffered. It took a strong willed player to step in, and he did that.
The change in roles also saw him assume goal kicking responsibilities with over half the game to go. His positional kicking was great and his place kicking improved. So, comparative to his usual role, Barrett had much more in his plate than he has had in the Black Jersey, since back in 2014. And after he scored a solo try, the big Barrett smile was clear for everyone to see.
But with all that, Barrett did a near-perfect job and has certainly warranted a starting role for the Third Test in Dunedin.
“Main photo credit’