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'I didn't think I was too flash tonight': Barrett's reflections on midfield shift

By Tom Vinicombe
Jordie Barrett. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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Three weeks into the experimental selection of Jordie Barrett in the No 12 jersey and it’s fair to say the jury’s still out on whether the switch is the best thing for Barrett, the Hurricanes or the All Blacks.

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Barrett started out in the midfield for Canterbury in his first season of NPC but has since played the bulk of his professional rugby at fullback – including starting nine matches in that role for the All Blacks last season.

This year, after four starts at No 15 for the Hurricanes, coach Jason Holland made the decision to shift Barrett in-field, giving the likes of Ruben Love and Josh Moorby the opportunity to play at the back.

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It’s a move that Barrett himself telegraphed at the end of last year on the What a Lad podcast.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a few hours in this quarantine hotel thinking about my transition into 12 – something I might do at some stage, whether it’s this year or next year or further down the track,” Barrett told James Marshall from his isolation hotel following the All Blacks end-of-year tour.

 

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“I was a 12 growing up, [it was where I played] most of my footy. I feel like my skillset suits that. Who knows? I guess I’ve got the next month and a half to figure out which avenue I’ll go down but look, I’m happy with the way I’m going at 15 but got a serious eye to playing 12 at some stage so probably not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

While the midfield move allows Barrett to make the most use of his size and power, it makes it more difficult for the 25-year-old to unlock his running game and takes his high ball skills out of the equation.

After two composed showings against the Chiefs and Crusaders, Barrett himself has admitted that things were a bit tougher in Dunedin on Saturday night when squaring off with the Highlanders.

“The first two weeks, I certainly enjoyed [playing at No 12],” he said on Sky Sports‘ post-game broadcast. “I didn’t think I was too flash tonight: a little bit clunky and some skill errors which I hold to a high standard of myself and I wasn’t happy with tonight but look, that’s what the Highlanders do, they put a lot of pressure on you, especially in the effort areas.”

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He did, however, imply that the move was one he’s still partial to in the long run.

“Certainly there’s a lot more collisions, you just feel like you’re in the game a lot more,” he said. “I’m loving it.”

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Where Barrett is selected throughout the rest of the season will be dictated by how Holland wants to use the rest of his backline. While Love and Moorby are options at the back, neither have looked especially comfortable at No 15 – although Moorby is still only three games into his Super Rugby career and Love is also relatively inexperienced.

Other major options in the midfield include Bailyn Sullivan, who scored the opening try on Saturday evening, Peter Umaga-Jensen and Billy Proctor.

Later in the season, it will also be up for debate whether Barrett is best suited at fullback or at second five for the All Blacks.

Despite Barrett’s “clunky” performance, the Hurricanes will still able to secure a 22-21 victory under the roof, although it was far from easy-going for the visitors, even though they had a one-man advantage for 20 minutes after Josh Dickson was sent off for a dangerous tackle.

“To be honest, we were probably lucky to win it,” Barrett said. “The Landers showed a lot of fire, particularly when there was the red card to Josh and then early in that second half, we let them down our end with a bit of ill-discipline.

“But look, we’ve learned [with] Super Rugby, every single week it’s small margins. We saw last night [in the match between the Crusaders and Blues], our last two games against the Chiefs and Crusaders, it’s tight, comes down to small margins in the end.”

The Hurricanes will travel to Melbourne next weekend for the competition’s inaugural Super Round, where they will face off with the Reds.

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