All Blacks to decide on who to pair Barrett with as dual playmaker
With incumbent pivot Richie Mo’unga in New Zealand on baby duties, the path has been paved for Barrett to stake his claim as the top All Blacks first-five after playing second-fiddle to his playmaking rival for much of this year.
What’s not so certain, though, is who Barrett will be partnered with in the dual playmaking role, of which the All Blacks have utilised since 2019.
After Mo’unga and Barrett failed to fire as a first-five and fullback combination over the past two seasons, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has changed things this year by pitting his two star men in a head-to-head battle for the No 10 jersey.
That left an opening for the fullback spot, which had been occupied by Barrett, and Damian McKenzie has emerged as the lead candidate for that position, having started at No 15 in four of his side’s five tests so far this campaign.
It would be little surprise, then, to see McKenzie named in the starting lineup once again this week as the All Blacks aim to complete a Bledisloe Cup clean sweep over the Wallabies at Optus Stadium in Perth.
However, according to Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall, McKenzie’s fullback rival Jordie Barrett could get a look in as a result of the chemistry he has with his older brother Beauden.
Like Beauden, Jordie has only started one test this year, which at fullback against Fiji in Dunedin last month.
Coincidentally, that was the same game Beauden started his only test of the season, and it was the second time the siblings have been picked in the dual playmaker scheme since the 2019 World Cup.
The other instance came during last year’s Bledisloe Cup defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane, but Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that, in the absence of Mo’unga and other frontline players, this week’s clash presents an opportunity for both the Barrett brothers to prove their worth as All Blacks starters.
“If you’re talking about giving guys opportunities, it might be a great opportunity to have Jordie at fullback,” Hall said before acknowledging the efforts of McKenzie at test level this year.
“If you’re talking about combinations, yes, Damo’s been unbelievable this season, but, you talk about that brother combo, you don’t really need a lot of time in the saddle to have a good understanding around how people play.”
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Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons viewed the situation differently, though, as he told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that Barrett will be reliant on his teammates further out in the backline to help him flourish in his first audition to win back the No 10 jersey on a permanent basis.
Parsons, who played two tests for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2016, said that McKenzie would be among the most important figures in the backline to help alleviate the pressure Barrett is set to face as a playmaker.
“There’s some different voices, and that might be able to ignite other parts of his game as well, and one of those is none other than Damian McKenzie, if he stays at fullback,” the ex-Blues centurion told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“I’m really excited to see the dual pivot role with Beaudy and Damo. I know they’re great mates off the field.
“They love their golf together, so a little bit of mojo between those two I think will be exciting in terms of relieving that pressure off Beaudy not always having to be first receiver and not always having to find that kick space in behind.”
Parsons added that, as the All Blacks are already set to make some major changes to their starting lineup due to the unavailability of Mo’unga, Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock, limiting the number of alterations to the rest of the team may be a priority for Foster.
“I’m just thinking I’d love to see him and see how he goes. I think Jordie’s worthy of potentially moving back to fullback, but I just hope for that consistency and not having too much change,” he said.
“There’s already a lot of change in the team, and I think, where they can, keep people in those key positions. I think keeping that similarity for guys coming in with these opportunities, it probably just gives a little bit less of a disruption.”
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