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Barrett's situation stuck at the back is his own doing and will likely only get worse

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photos by Getty Images)

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Well, might Beauden Barrett remind folk that first five-eighth is his preferred playing position.

Whether his intended audience was the rugby public, or Blues coach Leon MacDonald, the situation remains one of Barrett’s own making.

He’s long sat Super Rugby games out. At the Hurricanes, for instance, weeks could go by between appearances by Barrett.

He wasn’t injured, nor on one of his All Blacks-prescribed rests. No, we media folk and fans of the franchise would later be told Barrett was utilising a clause in his contract that had been inserted years before, enabling him to jet off to an exotic location for a spot of social influencing.

Or some such nonsense, designed to keep him happy and based in the capital.

Things have changed a bit in Auckland, though. Not on Barrett’s part, mind. No, he wasn’t sighted during Super Rugby’s first incarnation for 2020.

What changed was that when Barrett did deign to play, the No.10 jersey wasn’t still ready and waiting for him.

Time was when an All Black never gave a sucker an even break. Heck, even at provincial level players only gave their jumpers up grudgingly.

It’s not so long ago that a guy like Frank Bunce couldn’t even get a game for Auckland. Joe Stanley played 80 minutes each week – with Craig Innes floating around too – and Bunce was barely good enough to get on the bench.

Had he not had the option of North Harbour, Bunce would never have been an All Black, let alone the very fine one he later became.

Things are different now. Players are substituted and rotated and they play within pods where six men – in the case of frontrowers – share matchday duties that were once the domain of just three.

Barrett doesn’t sound that thrilled to be playing fullback for the Blues.

With the greatest respect to Otere Black, Barrett probably feels he’s by far the better five-eighth of the two and there were strong hints at that in his comments following Saturday’s Blues loss to the Hurricanes. And while it’s fair for Barrett to feel that way, the problem is he’s done it to himself.

Had he sought to play from the get-go this year, he’d never have fallen victim to Black’s form or MacDonald’s whims.

So instead of stating that 10 is his “preferred’’ spot and that he can have more “influence” over games from there, Barrett should actually get used to being shunted out of position or even out of sides entirely.

Next year’s Japanese sabbatical will no doubt be great for Barrett’s brand – and bank account – but it will further diminish his standing back here.

Quite frankly, if the Blues view Black as a better bet at first five-eighth, then what hope does Barrett have of convincing the national selectors he’s the All Blacks’ best 10?

This is not an opportunity to debate Barrett’s merits as a rugby player. I have said several times that I believe him to be New Zealand’s best first-five and that I would have him start there every week.

But when the man makes rugby second to other aspects of his life and when he opts to sit out games or seasons, then he leaves himself vulnerable to the selectors’ axe. And, what’s more, when you decide not to play, you forfeit the right to have a preferred position and to feel peeved when you’re not picked there.

This one thing Beauden Barrett lacks on his CV is a Rugby World Cup title. Sure he was part of the 2015 squad, but squad is the operative word.

It wasn’t ‘his’ team. He wasn’t the 10, he wasn’t calling the shots. He wasn’t the man charged with the winning and losing of the tournament.

Events then conspired against him a little in 2019. Damian McKenzie, who’d established himself as the first-choice fullback, was injured and Ben Smith’s form fell off the edge of a cliff.

Someone had to play fullback and Barrett – the man whose team the 2019 side had seemed destined to be – was the best available candidate.

He’ll be 32 come the 2023 tournament and the more late starts he has to a season and the more sabbaticals he embarks on, the less likely it appears that All Blacks team will be ‘his’ either.

Maybe he’s content with that. Maybe he feels he’s scaled all the heights he’s going to and just wants a better work-life balance. To enjoy the fruits of his labour and to get set up for life after Super and test rugby.

That’s what made Saturday’s comments so interesting, particularly given how guarded Barrett can be. They spoke of a competitive bloke, tired of playing out of position and increasingly unimpressed at being written off by pundits.

Well, only Barrett can change that. Only he can create a situation where his selection at first five-eighth is assured.

Instead he’s signed a deal in Japan that’ll only weaken his grasp on all the No.10 jerseys back here.



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