There’s no doubt Beauden Barrett has done the right thing.
Leaving the Hurricanes was obviously as much about lifestyle and commercial opportunities as it was about football. But rugby surely played a part too and that decision was vindicated on Sunday.
Barrett can look back on his Hurricanes career with enormous pride, as a father-son player, centurion and Super Rugby title-winner. But having done so much of that off the back foot, Barrett must now love being a Blue.
The final score of 30-20 at Eden Park didn’t do the Blues’ dominance justice. Truth is they handled the Hurricanes with ease, comfortably taming a team who would’ve come north desperate to ruin Barrett’s Blues debut.
Television commentator Tony Johnson made mention of the Hurricanes and Blues meeting in Super Rugby’s inaugural match, way back in 1996.
The Blues have had a pretty up and down time in between, but now look capable of returning to those glory days of yore when men such as Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick, Craig Dowd, Michael Jones and Zinzan and Robin Brooke dismantled visiting forward packs for fun.
The Hurricanes – as they pretty much always have been – remain a carbon copy of that 1996 side. Plenty of potential and talented individuals, but rarely a tight-five capable of functioning under pressure or against credible opposition.
It’s no newsflash, for instance, that the Blues lost their way for a few years there. Just as we’re all aware that the Highlanders now lack experience and are rebuilding a bit.
But the Hurricanes have always been deficient in the one area and don’t ever seem destined to put that right. There’s been times – thanks in no small part to the heroics of men such as Barrett – when they’ve risen above those issues, yet they remain a team that just can’t cut it up front.
You don’t want to round on or condemn individuals. The Hurricanes forwards who played at Eden Park on Sunday all tried their best, it’s just strange that any number of coaching and management regimes over the last 25 years have failed to recognise or rectify the team’s one glaring weakness.
That doesn’t diminish the performance of Sunday’s victors, though.
Even without the injured Karl Tu’inukuafe, the Blues had no trouble at scrum time and dominated the lineouts. It didn’t help the Hurricanes that their most-reliable lineout forward – Vaea Fifita – was a late scratching, even if he had only been picked on the reserves’ bench.
But it was in general play where the Blues’ superior strength really showed.
Ball, as we’re seeing, is hard to recycle well and quickly. It helps if you’re pushing over the gainline, though, as the Blues’ ball-runners did time and again.
Black’s an interesting one, you know. Yes, there’s that whole narrative around Barrett and Daniel Carter being in the squad and yet Black (at least for now) being the man they want at 10.
More fascinating, though, is the Hurricanes’ angle in all this.
They knew for a long time that Barrett was going. Whether it be just the odd season-long sabbatical or somewhere else entirely, they were preparing for life without him as the regular first-five.
Black had been the man destined to replace Barrett only, at some point, the Hurricanes lost heart. Black wasn’t quite making the progress they’d hoped, or even playing that well for Manawatu, and there was a feeling that the Blues could have him.
Fletcher Smith was drafted in and Jackson Garden-Bachop around and available and here we are, with Black dictating games behind a dominant pack and Smith unable to regularly crack the Hurricanes’ top 23.
Barrett, meanwhile, was able to slip quietly onto the Super Rugby Aotearoa stage. Not required to conjure miracles, or even drive the Blues around the park, he could just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Barrett – and Black for that matter – might always be Hurricanes in their hearts, but rugby is surely a lot more fun alongside a quality pack of forwards.
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