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From Super-Sub To Superstar: How Beauden Barrett Became World Player Of The Year

By Scotty Stevenson
Beauden Barrett of New Zealand poses with the World Rugby Mens Player of the Year Award. Photo: Getty

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Beauden Barrett started 2016 as a super-sub and ended it being named World Rugby Player of the Year. Scotty Stevenson pays tribute to the professional closer who became a star.

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Smiley Barrett is the kind of bloke who walks up behind you in a pub and gives you a rib shot before buying you a beer. He has got the punch down pat: just enough to make you flinch, but never so hard that it knocks the wind out of you. He has spent his post-playing days milking lots of cows and producing a Catholic horde of offspring. One of those kids is now World Rugby Player of the Year.

Beauden Barrett isn’t the most polished fly half ever to have played for New Zealand, but he may just be the most versatile. The All Blacks have boasted a production line of fine pivots over the years – some could kick with metronomic perfection, others could control a game with a chess master’s playbook, and still others were happy just to pass the ball and let the guys outside them do all the work.

What makes Barrett so special is that he can be all of those things, but rarely is he the same thing twice. He doesn’t have an ace of the sleeve; he has all four of them. In a position that promotes stability, Beauden Barrett is the extra proton. That’s what makes him so hard to handle.

Until this season, Barrett had been the thing test rugby players hate being the most: the closer. You can buy the line that it’s all about what’s best for the team, but be assured that international players live for starting roles. Barrett had become so devastating as a final quarter weapon that he was a victim of his own ability. Barrett didn’t win battles; he won wars. And that may have been his lot, had it not been for retirements or injuries.

There were both. Dan Carter sailed off into the sunset with a World Cup Winner’s Medal and a biography, and Aaron Cruden broke down in the second test against Wales this year, handing Barrett the opportunity he had long craved. He scored a try in that test against the Welsh, scored two more a week later, and continued to score tries and points during a Rugby Championship in which the All Blacks were so dominant it was almost embarrassing.

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Barrett was a man apart throughout the Rugby Championship. It wasn’t that he had a skill set that no one else could master – it was that he backed himself to use it all the damn time. While other first fives were finding ways to limit the damage, Barrett was inflicting it. There were times when you had to sit back and simply admire the kid’s pluck. If it wasn’t Barrett messing with defences, it was his fullback Ben Smith. More often than not, it was both of them at the same time. Barrett is Smith with a control complex.

There is something else that makes Barrett tick: he is as unruffled as an Evangelical’s hairpiece. Put it down to a big family upbringing, or the easy confidence of youth, but you can’t faze the guy. Even under pressure he just keeps trying things. Off the field his manner is as carefree and loose as it is on it. Perhaps that’s why he is such a pleasure to watch. It may not always work for Beauden Barrett, but it works all the time, eighty per cent of the time.

So here’s one in the ribs for Smiley Barrett, who produced a kid who plays the game the way we would all like to live our lives: Recklessly, wonderfully, and with the wind at our backs. Beauden Barrett: the ultimate closer who waited for an opening. And took it with both hands.

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