'Huge for us': Blues excited by Beauden Barrett's return for Chiefs clash
That fixture will mark Barrett’s first outing for the Blues in two years after he skipped last year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title-winning campaign to take up a season-long sabbatical deal in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath.
In between his Top League spell and his return to the Blues, the 30-year-old playmaker has endured a rough time in the injury ward after he left last year’s test between the All Blacks and Ireland with what seemed at the time to be an innocuous head knock.
What transpired, though, was a lengthy sideline stint that forced Barrett to miss New Zealand’s season-ending defeat to France in Paris, as well as the Blues’ season-opening Super Rugby Pacific loss to the Hurricanes in Dunedin last week.
During that time, Barrett expressed fears for his playing future, but he has now recovered adequately enough to return to action this weekend, much to the delight of Blues assistant coach Dan Halangahu.
“We don’t take chances with anyone’s career or anything like that, so Beauden’s taking his time coming back,” Halangahu told media on Thursday.
“What he has done is add huge amounts off-field. We’re extremely fortunate now we’ve got a little more experience, guys who have been on tour in that November period, such as Rieko [Ioane], but Rieko’s not a lone soldier in the backs anymore.
“Now he’s got a few more allies and leaders coming back from that tour, so Beauden, even though he hasn’t contributed on-field yet, he does add a lot off-field.
“Extremely professional, and drives our backline, in particular, but the whole team to turn up and do well. As I said, to give guys like a Rieko a few more allies, it’s really important for us to grow that leadership throughout the whole group.”
Barrett isn’t the only notable inclusion in the Blues side to face the Chiefs, a match where they will hope to clinch their first win of the season.
Joining Barrett as a new face in the starting lineup is captain Dalton Papalii, who sustained a head knock of his own last week that made him ineligible for selection against the Hurricanes.
A standout for the Blues and All Blacks last year, Halangahu emphasised the importance of having Papalii, and Barrett, back on deck after their side conceded three tries and 19 points in the final 10 minutes of their match against the Hurricanes.
“We were very clear that the last period of the match wasn’t what we wanted, but, in reflection, not having our senior leaders out there and our more experienced players was probably something that contributed,” Halangahu said.
“Getting Dalton back is huge for us, and also Beauden’s come through the week really well. He’s been a while out of rugby, so him easing his way back in is good for us, as well.”
Papalii’s inclusion in the No 7 jersey demotes Adrian Choat to the bench in place of last week’s debutant Anton Segner, while the only other alteration to the starting team comes at fullback, where Stephen Perofeta replaces Zarn Sullivan.
Halangahu indicated that fullback is a hotly-contested position at the Blues, with Perofeta getting the nod this week after Sullivan had the first crack in the No 15 jersey.
“I think you can put it down to the form that Stephen Perofeta’s in,” Halangahu said of Perofeta’s selection.
“He’s extremely unlucky not to be in the starting team in week one. We’ve all seen in NPC, he’s probably the player of the NPC, so it’s the challenge of trying to pick a backline when we’ve got guys competing and performing well.
“It is difficult, and we sit around and have the discussion around who’s in the team this week, and it’s a great problem to have, guys playing well and putting their hand up.
“We feel like we’re starting to build some depth, but, as you said, there’s definitely not satisfaction in 70 good minutes. We get satisfaction from winning games for this team.”
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