Talent recognises talent, so they say.
Earlier this year “over 100” New Zealand Super Rugby players contributed anonymously to poll questions from a radio host, pertaining to the state of the game.
Forty percent of respondents reportedly nominated Beauden Barrett as this country’s best player and 58 percent said he was our best first five-eighth.
Judged against what’s happened since, Barrett isn’t even the best fullback in his family and is flat out getting a game at first-five for anyone.
So how has it got to this? How is that Barrett – in the eyes of many of his peers the best New Zealand player of this generation – wears 15 most of the time now, doesn’t goal kick and seemingly isn’t going to become the dominant force we all assumed?
Having been groomed for it for years, why was he not New Zealand’s first five-eighth at the 2019 Rugby World Cup? How did a team that was supposedly ‘his’ end up in the hands of Richie Mo’unga?
Has Barrett been the architect of all this? Have coaches let him down? Why do we insist on forever playing people out of position?
Do you not watch Barrett play now and wonder what happened? How did a player of such sublime talent become something of an All Blacks’ afterthought and how long can we persist with him at fullback?
If he’s not playing 10 and kicking all the goals and calling all the shots and taking ownership for all the results, then why is he actually in the team? Especially when Jordie Barrett is the better fullback.
Let’s be honest here: Richie Mo’unga has fashioned a formidable Super Rugby resume but his All Blacks’ performances have only really been adequate. He’s been picked on potential and his Crusaders’ deeds, rather than anything else.
Not being able to get a game ahead of him will hardly be doing wonders for Barrett’s confidence, will it?
Barrett is partly culpable here too. By being choosy about how much Super Rugby he’s prepared to play, the 29-year-old has given others the opportunity to shine in his absence.
Mo’unga has guided the Crusaders to four franchise titles on the trot and then Barrett suffered the embarrassment of not being able to displace Otere Black at the Blues.
Would Barrett have been better as a one-club man? Could, instead of putting snaps on social media from the Super Bowl, he have been back in New Zealand fighting for the No.10 jersey?
Leaving Wellington for Auckland is one thing, but many people feel ditching the Hurricanes for the Blues was quite another. Especially when Daniel Carter remained a Crusader despite living in Auckland.
Barrett could have remained indispensable to the All Blacks at first five-eighth and he has to take some responsibility for the fact that he’s not.
It’s not all on him, though. The idea of Aaron Cruden coming on to finish games, during the 2017 British and Irish Lions series, was a poor one.
At a time when the team actually needed the ball to be in Barrett’s hands, it wasn’t. And you have to be so careful when it comes to the treatment of playmakers.
Not only does the rest of the team have to have absolute confidence in their 10, he has to be rock solid in his belief too. Decisions such as that have undermined Barrett’s standing in the team, as has this semi-permanent shift to fullback.
It’s a testament to his athleticism and talent that the arrangement has worked well on occasions, but we can all see the lifespan of that move diminishing. Partly because his impact is becoming limited, but also because his little brother is potentially a better option.
Jordie Barrett is not a test wing and the sooner we abandon that experiment the better. Might he be good in midfield? Well, while we are abandoning backline experiments, let’s not let Rieko Ioane have a run at 13 again.
For now, Jordie Barrett’s best spot is 15. In fact, if he’s not playing there, he probably shouldn’t be on the park. It’s just that if he’s fullback, what happens to Beauden?
The All Blacks’ backline selection policy is a bit of a shambles right now. It’s very much a case of picking the most talented players and then finding somewhere for them to play, regardless of suitability.
In terms of Beauden Barrett: do we need to accept that he won’t be in the 23 every week? That there are better options at both 10 and 15 and that his days as a first-choice All Black are numbered?
When Barrett was World Rugby player of the year in 2016 and 2017 you’d have suggested the best was still to come. That he’d lead the All Blacks to the 2019 World Cup title and win game after game after game from first five-eighth, building a legacy to almost match that of Daniel Carter.
Strange as it sounds, the debate around Barrett might now centre around whether he ever did manage to realise his immense potential, instead of where he ranks among the all-time greats?
Either way, it’s hard to fathom how quickly it’s all come to this.
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