Beauden Barrett has just added to a sense of wellbeing surrounding the Blues that hasn’t been present since they last made the playoffs almost a decade ago.
The former world player of the year began officially training with the team for the first time yesterday and today spoke to the media with enthusiasm and honesty following his post-World Cup break, saying he hopes his Blues debut will be against his former Hurricanes team at Eden Park on April 11, a match he expects to be “heated” but nevertheless a conflict he is very much looking forward to.
He viewed the Blues’ historic victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday on his phone while at a 60th birthday party and said he was hugely pleased with a 24-15 win which snapped an away-day derby drought stretching back to 2013. The Blues are sixth on the table and currently on track for a playoff place.
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It is difficult to imagine the 28-year-old first-five gaining too much weight over an off-season but he looked trim and sharp while running with the Blues at their Alexandra Park headquarters and while his first game isn’t several weeks away yet, his eagerness to get involved in what is an increasingly successful team who have won four games in five weeks was infectious.
That, and his desire to run out against his old franchise for what will be a hugely anticipated clash on Easter Saturday, should put the Blues and their supporters in good heart.
“That would be the dream wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t be a bad way to start,” Barrett said. “But I’ve got to get where I need to to earn a spot in this team.”
Asked whether he had considered playing against his former team for which he played more than 100 times and which includes great friends such as TJ Perenara and Dane Coles, Barrett said: “Well it’s going to happen one day isn’t it so of course I have. Whether it’s in four or five weeks’ time, I’m not too sure. It will be fun. It probably will be heated, but that’s footy and most games are.”
He added: “It’s great to be back out there. I feel really refreshed, particularly mentally. It’s been a good time away from the game and I’m really enjoying my first couple of days officially in camp. I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in recent weeks seeing them do well as well.
“It’s been a rare opportunity,” he said of his break. “I’ve been playing rugby in New Zealand professionally for 10 years. It’s a unique opportunity for me which I’m really grateful to New Zealand Rugby for. Just having extra time being able to do things I haven’t done before with my friends and my family has been really fun.”
Barrett said there was no set date for his return to the game, but that mid-April had been pencilled in with coach Leon MacDonald who may have a few selection dilemmas to face given Otere Black’s form. “It’s always been up to Leon and I and how I feel I’m going.”
He confirmed he would probably need two games before a Super Rugby return – one of which would be for his Coastal club in Taranaki.
“It’s been 10 years,” he said. “It’s a club that I dearly love. It’s where it all began. I think it’s really important to connect with your club as much as possible. I’ll be playing with my brother Blake too which will be fun.”
He said any criticism of his break by those who may have felt he should be playing had gone over his head. “I’ve been in no race to talk to people about my break because it’s been my break. How they see it is up to them but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Moving to the Blues was “a challenge I thought long and hard about. I knew I wasn’t ready to go offshore and play outside of New Zealand. It was about staying in New Zealand and giving myself a fresh challenge; moving my family up to Auckland to my wife’s home. We’re really enjoying living here in this great city. It’s all positive”.
Attending the Super Bowl and various tennis and golfing events are now behind him. It’s time to get back to work and for the No10 that means taking control.
“Naturally I will lead and it’s my responsibility, particularly to drive the attack. I’m excited by that challenge and I know it will be a focal point.”
He’s not wrong.
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