'I knew I wasn't really in the top 50 rugby players': The circumstances that drove Jordie Barrett off the All Blacks path - then back onto it
Jordie Barrett is a prodigiously talented footballer. At just 20 years of age, he was thrust into the All Blacks line-up for his starting international debut against the British & Irish Lions and has continued to develop his game since.
Three years older and wiser now, Barrett has revealed that if circumstances had been a bit different, he would never have pulled on the black jersey for the historic series. He may, in fact, have given up on playing professional rugby altogether.
It’s well documented that Barrett’s from a family of exceptional sportsmen with older brothers Kane, Beauden and Scott all professional rugby players.
Their talents have largely been confined to the rugby field but Jordie and Beauden have also dabbled in cricket, with the two brothers some of Team Rugby’s best performers in the annual Black Clash.
Admittedly the likes of Stephen Fleming, Dan Vettori and Grant Elliot may not pull out all the stops in their annual battle with their rugby-playing rivals, but your average cricket player is still going to struggle coming up against some former (and current) greats of the code.
Jordie’s 2 wickets from 22 balls in the 2020 game matched Grant Elliot’s take, illustrating just how dab a hand the youngest Barrett brother is at the summer sport. That’s impressive return wasn’t just the result of a few games of cricket on the beach as a child, however. The game was never just a hobby for Jordie, it was something that he excelled in from a young age and seriously considered as a career option.
In fact, had things gone a bit differently, cricket may well have trumped rugby as Barrett’s professional sport of choice.
After high school, Barrett headed down to Lincoln University on a rugby scholarship but the oval football code wasn’t his main focus.
“That first year out of school, cricket was more my priority,” Barrett told RugbyPass.
“I was spending more time in the indoor nets down there at Lincoln University than I was in the gym.
“I was playing Central Districts Under 19s then, and I was giving the NZ Under 19s a red-hot crack because there was the World Cup at the end of the year.”
New Zealand cricket fans will be in tears and rugby fans will thanking their lucky stars at how things unfolded.
“Unfortunately, I missed out on their World Cup squad that went to Bangladesh,” Barrett said.
“I was a bit disappointed with that but, at the time, I probably wasn’t good enough anyway.
“But I played cricket all summer again and then went back down to Lincoln the next year.”
'The reason I’m happy to talk about this is because nothing will change if it’s not out there.'
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 2, 2020
Barrett’s commitment to the summertime sport was probably in part due to the promise he’d shown at high school. While he’d been a handy rugby player, his skills didn’t compare to what he could do on the cricket pitch.
In fact, despite making his All Blacks debut at just 20, the Francis Douglas Memorial College alumnus was overlooked completely for the New Zealand Secondary Schools side in 2014.
“To tell you the truth, I was a skinny white battler [at high school],” Barrett admitted.
“I could kick a ball but I still hadn’t had my growth spurt by then. I was only six-foot and playing first five and I would’ve been nowhere near in the frame of New Zealand schools so that wasn’t a tough pill to swallow.
“I knew I wasn’t really in the top 50 rugby players in New Zealand, at that stage, and that’s just when I was just enjoying my cricket.”
Being overlooked for the New Zealand Under 19 cricket side in 2014 changed things for the ‘white battler’, however, with rugby benefitting from the snubbing.
“At the start of 2016, I played prems for Lincoln University as well as Crusaders Knights at the start of the season,” Barrett said.
“And then, that was the same year as the Under 20s, and Razor was head coach and he picked me for that, and then picked me in this Canterbury Mitre 10 side so that’s basically where it all started.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
“It was like a fairy tale – but without the happy ending”
– @TomVinicombe takes notes as @LimaSopoaga, the former @allblacksrugby player, dives deep in the circumstances of his switch to @WaspsRugby in 2018https://t.co/lOXUDZWfN4
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 28, 2020
Barrett’s Under 20s didn’t have their most successful season ever, finishing in 5th place, but his first and only stint with Canterbury later that season ended in a Premiership title.
From there, the Hurricanes came calling, and a year later, Barrett was running out in the black jersey to take on the British and Irish Lions.
It was a whirlwind journey that may never have happened if Barrett had made that Under 19 World Cup or completely pushed rugby to the side and focussed on just the one sport – which many people had suggested to him.
“It was a funny one because I was getting told by a lot of people from the respective codes that you’ve gotta start choosing, gotta start specializing in one,” said Barrett.
“My parents, the whole time, they just keep saying, nah you don’t have to commit to anyone – just keep playing both sports for as long as possible and then whatever happens, happens.
“Basically, that’s all it was. It happened that I didn’t make the Under 19 World Cup squad and then I made Under 20s for rugby the next year and I didn’t really have a chance to go back to cricket the next summer so it just worked out that way.”
Cricket’s loss is rugby’s gain, of course, and the 23-year-old already has 17 international matches under his belt – including his starting debut against the Lions and five games at last year’s World Cup in Japan.
It’s easy to forget how young the talented footballer is, given how long he’s been floating around the professional scene, but there’s still plenty of time for the utility back to develop into a world-class player – a player that we may never have seen the best of if he’d been snapped up New Zealand Under 19 cricket team in 2016.
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