With the steady stream of players ending their terms with the Japan Top League, leading names like Beauden Barrett & Brodie Retallick return to NZ Rugby.
That is to say, they have had to readjust to New Zealand conditions via the mandatory 14-day managed isolation period, which all returnees must complete. They, like others, have been sequestered away from the usual attention of cameras and adoring fans. Maybe that is a bonus if you are a marketer’s dream like Beauden is.
For both, the break has allowed them time out of the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) cauldron. Traveling with their wives, Barrett with his young wife and daughter, have enjoyed their experiences in Japan. Retallick spent additional time on his 2019 Sabbatical – broken by the initial Coronavirus pandemic – yet each has had to adapt to the conditions of the nations and gladly, they each fulfilled their contracts before returning home safely.
Prior to his semifinal fixture for Kobelco Steelers, asked about what process follows the Brodie Retallick return, the player told NZME; “When I arrive back in New Zealand and pass a medical, I’ll be under contract with New Zealand Rugby again. I’m not too sure exactly what the process is and I’m not too sure if they have Tests for July, but I’ll be available.
“Hopefully I get an opportunity to put my best foot forward, and if not, I guess I’ll be maybe playing for the [Hawke’s Bay] Magpies to prove my case and try to get my way back in there.”
That possibility to play in the Bunnings NPC Championship would be a favourite for many grassroots fans, however, the likelihood is more that the planned All Blacks camps designed by head coach Ian Foster are likely formation steps for both. Pointing towards the opening Test of the International season (on July 3) or when they might be selected to represent their country again.
Beauden Barrett & Brodie Retallick return to NZ Rugby
Prior to his arrival, Beauden Barrett’s first season with Suntory Sungoliath did not end as well as he might have hoped. Pipped for the Top League trophy yet Barrett will have gained plenty out of the experience. Something new, refreshing, and as Retallick too would have sensed, as relief from the potent local derby contests that Super Rugby Aotearoa offered.
Patiently waiting out their isolation periods, watching matches from the Trans-Tasman Super Rugby and earlier vision of the Aotearoa competition, would have felt a world away from the Japanese domestic league. Although not as soft as once expected, the fast-paced game in the Orient is less bombardment, and more subtlety in play. A reason that will see Brodie Retallick return lighter than he might have arrived in Kobe. Whether that will be a positive or, whether traditional NZ Rugby needs will demand he packs on several kilograms of muscle just to survive the contact-area.
Barrett has spoken of the differing standards – one he enjoyed and prospered in – yet he told Stuff Sport that “I’m really enjoying my time playing No 10 here at Suntory. It’s given me that burning desire to be better than what I have been before in the All Blacks No 10 jersey.”
Beauden Barrett may not be of this earth 🌍 but we're sure glad he's here in Japan 🇯🇵 playing our #TopLeague 😂
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) April 7, 2021
“Obviously we have a two-week quarantine period where we have to maintain fitness levels and then two or three weeks before our first game [if we are selected in the All Blacks]. There’s a camp thrown in there before that happens. I’m sure that if I’m selected in this squad coming up then through training in an All Black environment I can get myself up to that test match intensity.”
Returning to International standards will be the greatest Test
Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick are not the only players who will go from the Japan Top League with intentions of International rugby. A big leap (naturally), one that others will also take. Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, George Kruis from England, are a few who have the same desire to reproduce the world-class form that national selectors will feel confident in.
Physical conditioning may be the one element the individual can count on personally, however, match fitness may be harder to value. An advantage that competitors in the Premiership, Super Rugby, and active competitions, will hold over the returnees. Isolation will hinder the New Zealanders, so a selection camp will provide some confirmation they are ready. Similarly in Australia, where the biggest challenge of the last half dozen years lay ahead in the form of France, will too hold.
In South Africa, a touring British and Irish Lions squad is going to closely followed. Plus the assorted summer Tests in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as July fixtures in New Zealand. Meeting their Pacific neighbours, in a significant reinforcement of the importance of the game in the Pacific – supporting proposed sides inclusion in Super Rugby 2022.
So what will fans of the returning Retallick and Barrett hope to find? Will they be able to simply ‘flick back on the Switch’?
For the 88 Test veteran Barrett, his slick skills in open play mean his natural threat is in avoiding the advancing defensive lines. To think on his feet, something that is about reaction times, working with drills that simulate match conditions. Planning for any scenario where an All Blacks outside back can maximize the backlines potential; no matter if Barrett wears 10 or 15. Yet with Richie Mo’unga in supreme form, it will not be an easy decision.
If you want to watch a player on top of his game, just watch the performance of Richie Mounga today. Surely one of the best running and passing 10’s in the game 🤟 pic.twitter.com/SlwA8OOnSb
— Richie Williams (@RichieWills10) May 22, 2021
Then add in Retallick, and his freakish skills. Who would not want such a physical specimen yet, with a skillset that any backrower would be envious of. Some will say, there are few players like him – possibly only Maro Itoje or Leone Nakarawa. It means that seeing Brodie Retallick return to the test team might be a sure bet. The All Blacks selectors will know they have some established locks yet, without introducing green, inexperienced men to fill a gap.
Retallick might find himself the more eagerly wanted asset for the 2021 All Blacks July Test window. It might see Barrett integrated sporadically…..or possibly given the role as the steel to parry against the incumbent Mo’unga, to provide that individual a consistent place to prove his worth. So better to hold Beauden in reserve, than waste a utility role that Will Jordan or brother Jordie could easily do – and they have good form to instantly rely on.
First though, each must complete their managed isolation. Retallick will just be completing his before Barrett completes his term a week or so later. And for any rugby fan, that return can’t come soon enough.
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