Beauden Barrett is showing what he can do without the Horror-canes pack
There was a period there where it felt as if every Hurricanes season culminated in a clash with the Crusaders.
Inevitably two things would happen.
First, the Crusaders would decimate the Hurricanes up front, en route to an emphatic victory.
And, second, a fair chunk of the rugby reporting and watching public would opine that Beauden Barrett wasn’t up to it.
That he couldn’t manage a game, couldn’t rise to the big occasion and couldn’t be trusted to guide the All Blacks to victory in a test match of consequence.
At some point these misgivings would be put to then-national coach Steve Hansen, who would let out an enormous sigh and mumble something about how Barrett might look if he was playing behind the Crusaders’ pack, rather than the Hurricanes.
It was hard not to recall Hansen’s words as we watched Barrett turn the tables on the Crusaders in Christchurch last Saturday night.
We’ve probably all chucked our two bobs’ worth in on Barrett’s move to the Blues.
Should he have stayed a Hurricane for life? Could he have commuted down from Auckland, as Daniel Carter once did to remain a Crusader? Was he letting his wife dictate his rugby career?
What we didn’t tend to do, was wonder aloud about how good Barrett might look behind a decent forward pack.
The Blues are not the finished article. Beyond Barrett, their backline doesn’t instil great confidence.
But when you’re playing off the kind of platform being laid by the Blues’ forwards at the moment, then it’s easy to look a competent player.
Barrett, though, looks more than competent. He looks commanding.
Given time and options, few players possess his vision and ability to execute. With goalkicking returning to the arsenal in Christchurch, Barrett was once again the complete first five-eighth.
We got things badly wrong three or four years back.
We took Barrett, at that time probably the best player on the planet, and stuffed him around.
We took goalkicking off him, shunted him to fullback and generally undermined the confidence of the most gifted footballer of his generation.
And for what?
Were the All Blacks any better? Did they win any more games? Did they waltz their way to the 2019 Rugby World Cup title?
We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past now.
There’s no Barrett v Richie Mo’unga debate. There’s Barrett as the undisputed starter at 10 and then those that back him up when required.
Stuff contestability or keeping incumbents honest. This is a time for certainty and, if Super Rugby Pacific has taught us anything, it’s that Barrett is certainly the best first five-eighth in the country.
Playing behind a good pack helps as, no doubt, not getting TJ Perenara’s inconsistent service is probably a blessing too.
But as we approach next year’s World Cup and survey an All Blacks squad in which plenty of spots appear up for grabs, let’s not make No.10 one of them.
Let’s declare that, without reservation or qualification, the All Blacks will be Barrett’s team and that he will be taking ownership for the results from first five-eighth.
You can’t put 10s on the hot seat. You can’t have them looking over their shoulder at who might replace them next week.
You have to tell them they’re in charge and give them the confidence to succeed.
I doubted Barrett would earn that right again. Having been mucked about, I wondered if he’d make a permanent move overseas.
I mean, it’s not that long ago that Otere Black was the Blues’ starting 10, for heaven’s sake. Imagine the indignity for Barrett of playing second fiddle to him.
Thankfully those days are over and, with it, Barrett’s wasted years playing as an additional playmaker from fullback.
All we need now is an All Blacks’ pack to do Beauden Barrett’s talents justice.
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