Otere Black’s playmaking partnership with Beauden Barrett may have failed to fire for the Blues against the Crusaders on Saturday, but that hasn’t dampened the first-five’s outlook on his backline dynamic with the All Blacks star.
Black and Barrett started at No. 10 and No. 15, respectively, in their side’s 26-15 defeat to the reigning Super Rugby champions in Christchurch last weekend.
Neither player was able to help keep the Blues’ unbeaten status in Super Rugby Aotearoa intact, with Barrett in particular copping plenty of flak for his lack of contribution from the backfield.
Making his name as a first-five since his professional debut at the beginning of last decade, the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year has played exclusively at fullback for the Blues and All Blacks since last July.
The positional switch came as the All Blacks coaching group implemented a dual-playmaking axis between Barrett and Richie Mo’unga that ultimately failed to deliver New Zealand a third consecutive World Cup crown last year.
Nevertheless, the Blues have persisted in selecting Barrett in the No. 15 jersey since his debut for the club last month to accomodate for the in-form Black.
The move helped pave the way for a three-match winning run to open their Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, but the loss to the Crusaders – inspired by Mo’unga at first-five – has drawn criticism from various pundits.
Leading UK writer and former British and Irish Lions first-five Stuart Barnes was among those, labelling the decision to play Barrett at fullback as a “liability”.
“New Zealand rugby is in danger of turning one of the most original talents in the history of the sort into a liability,” he wrote for The Times, saying that Barrett’s “most significant contribution [a crucial kick out on the full] played a part in his team’s demise.”
Speaking to Stuff on Tuesday, though, Black hit back at those critics, stating that his partnership with Barrett is one that can work despite Saturday’s hiccup.
“Beauden and I have got a really good combination going,” Black said.
“Just because it was a bit quiet on the weekend, doesn’t mean we have to change a few things.
“People were saying good things about him not that long ago. So we’re going to keep working hard and keep finding areas in our game to put the boys in better areas to attack from.
“It was a good learning for Beauden and I, but for the team as well.”
Whether or not Black will maintain his place in the Blues’ starting lineup for this weekend’s bout with the Hurricanes in Wellington remains to be seen, but the Maori All Blacks representative said he’s willing to make way for Barrett at No. 10 if it is in the team’s best interests.
“I feel like I’m playing some pretty good footy at the moment. But it’s not always down to that, it’s what has got to be the best for the team,” he said.
“That’s all out of my control, it’s up to me to perform well, week in, week out. Whatever is best for the team, I’ll do that.”
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