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Who can replace Beauden Barrett?

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Filling the void: Who could replace Beauden Barrett at the Hurricanes?

Confirmation of Beauden Barrett’s shock move from the Hurricanes to the Blues on Friday has brought with it a whirlwind of speculation and commentary within Super Rugby circles.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest transfers in a competition where shifts between teams across the southern hemisphere by star test players is rare, Barrett’s transition from Wellington to Auckland has the potential bring with it several significant ramifications.

Such ramifications include the potential for a vastly increased turn in fortunes for the perennial underperforming Blues, who are still suffering from the longest title drought of all the Super Rugby champions as they continue to wait to add their trophy collection following their most recent triumph in 2003.

Barrett’s move north also brings into question what younger brother Jordie will do come the end if the year.

The 22-year-old utility back is off contract with the Hurricanes and New Zealand Rugby following this year’s World Cup in Japan, and there will no doubt be plenty of offers on the table with an array of suitors lining up in an attempt to secure his services.

When he signed with the Hurricanes at the end of 2016, the presence of Beauden at the club was a significant contributing factor to his decision to relocate from Christchurch to the capital, but with his older brother now gone, Jordie could decide his future may lie elsewhere.

A product of the Canterbury academy system and having played for their Mitre 10 Cup team three years ago, a shift back to the Garden City to join the Crusaders could be a tempting option, especially with the departure of Ryan Crotty and the retirement of Israel Dagg, which will free up room in the midfield and at fullback for Barrett to utilise.

Having older brother and All Blacks teammate Scott on the Crusaders’ books is another selling point for the back-to-back-to-back reigning champions, while it is also believed that the Highlanders are interested in acquiring the younger Barrett’s signature as they look to replace the long-serving Ben Smith.

What’s arguably more pressing for the Hurricanes, though, is that Barrett’s departure means they will immediately have to focus their attention of finding a replacement at first-five for the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year.

It’s a daunting prospect trying to find someone to fill the void left by someone that possesses as much talent as Barrett, and it’s highly likely that, in the short-term future at least, they won’t be able to fill that role as adequately as the Blues’ new signing did.

In Fletcher Smith and Jackson Garden-Bachop, the Hurricanes still have two young first-fives in their ranks, but it would be an incredible stretch to suggest they could live up to the standard that Barrett provided the Wellingtonians.

Without a bona fide star playmaker at Westpac Stadium for next year, and with a spot vacant in that position leading into next year, the Hurricanes will be forced to search afar in a bid to reduce the damage caused by Barrett’s deficit.

The franchise’s CEO Avan Lee confirmed on Friday in the wake of Barrett’s transfer announcement that the club had received interest from offshore-based Kiwi first-fives who were keen on returning to New Zealand with the Hurricanes.

“We’ve over the last four to six weeks been aware that Beauden may well leave, so we’ve been working on a couple of other people,” he said.

“We’ve lost some quality players over the last couple of years because of the influence Beauden and [halfback] TJ [Perenara] have had in their two positions. That can work in reverse. We’ve had some interest from offshore from quality players who are now very interested in coming to the Hurricanes because they see an opportunity to compete for a position that probably wasn’t available for the last five or six years.

“We’ve just got to move on. We’re disappointed, but we totally respect Beauden and his decision. We can’t dwell on it. He’s played 125 games for the club, been a key part of our first title and we’re sorry to see him go, but we’ve got to now do what is in the best interests of the club and those wheels are in motion already.”

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Although he didn’t list any names, Lee’s comments must surely be a source of excitement for Hurricanes fans, who will still be deflated by the loss of their key man.

It indicates that rather than having to plough through the Mitre 10 Cup in hope of a picking up a prodigiously talented youngster, or pushing hard for the development of Smith and Garden-Bachop in the hope of them achieving the unrealistic goal of performing to the level of which Barrett operates at, they can instead call upon an quality, proven Kiwi pair of hands from overseas.

And there are plenty of options on the table.

Two of the more notable New Zealand playmakers based abroad are former All Blacks Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Cruden, both of whom have strong links to the Hurricanes and Wellington.

Sopoaga still has a year left on his contract with Premiership outfit Wasps, but his debut campaign in Europe has been widely labelled as a flop by various media outlets in the United Kingdom.

Commanding a big salary as an ex-All Black, Wasps may be enticed to release Sopoaga from his contract, especially if the Hurricanes come calling, which could be an intriguing offer for the 28-year-old, who was born and raised in Wellington before shifting south to join the Highlanders in Dunedin at the end of 2010.

Cruden is another who could be lured back to the capital, despite unconfirmed rumours of his signing with Top League club Kobe Steelers.

Should the Montpellier man sign a deal to play in Japan, it would be unlikely that he’d be available for Super Rugby action, but with the deal yet to be confirmed, the Hurricanes could make a play for the 50-test All Black, who called Wellington his home during a two-season stint with the side between 2010 and 2011.

If he does commit to Kobe, though, then that could free up Sunwolves star Hayden Parker.

The uncapped 28-year-old was a revelation for the Japanese Super Rugby side this year, with his astute goal kicking among the best in the world, while his improved running game helped make the Sunwolves one of the most enterprising and exciting attacking teams in the competition.

Also signed with the Kobe Steelers, Parker struggled for game time last season as he was forced to ride the pine behind new recruit Dan Carter en route to the club’s title-winning success.

The addition of Cruden to their first-five stocks would mean Parker’s faint hopes of game time would virtually become non-existent, and with the future of the Sunwolves restricted to just one more season, a return to New Zealand would appear to be favourable for the former Highlanders pivot, who was also believed to be in the sights of the Blues prior to the Barrett signing.

One would imagine any one of those three expat Kiwis would be welcomed by the Hurricanes following Barrett’s exit, with the starting 10 jersey open to take, which is a rarity in New Zealand Super Rugby.

If Lee’s comments are anything to go by, then negotiations seem like they are already as the Hurricanes look to replace the best first-five in the club’s history.

But, with nothing set in stone and plenty of options available to them, all that can be said for now is to watch this space.

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Filling the void: Who could replace Beauden Barrett at the Hurricanes?