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'It's an ongoing work-on': Barrett praises teammates, acknowledges own imperfections

By Tom Vinicombe
Beauden Barrett and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. (Photo by Brett Phibbs/Photosport)

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Blues first five and stand-in captain Beauden Barrett has praised the work of his teammates following the team’s 35-6 win over the Highlanders but remained remarkably humble concerning his own performance on Saturday night.

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Barrett scored two tries and assisted one in the quarter-final victory and finished the match with over six beaten defenders and 80 metres to his name.

While his second try may have come courtesy of Rieko Ioane, who passed to Barrett when he likely could have scored himself, the first was entirely a product of his own making, with Barrett sprinting through a gap in the defence from first receiver, fending off prop Ethan de Groot and making a beeline for the line.

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All in all, it was an impressive performance – one that reinforced Barrett’s position as the first-choice All Blacks flyhalf – but the 31-year-old suggested it wasn’t quite as complete a showing as it may have looked to your average viewer.

“When I stay engaged and maximise my involvement I feel good,” he said following the victory. “The challenge is not to drift and limit those options.

“It’s an ongoing work-on and obviously being the link between the forwards and the backs gives the whole team those opportunities to keep teams honest in defence. That’s where I think tonight I didn’t get it right all the time so I need to be hard on myself and stay active.

“Generally feeling pretty good but I’ll be hard on myself when I look at the tape.”

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Barrett revealed he was surprised as everyone else when Ioane gave him the ball with the flying midfielder in the clear but suggested he would “thank him again, just to let him know it was well-received” and praised the general work of Ioane, inside centre Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and fullback Stephen Perofeta for guiding the Blues around the park.

“When we got a little bit of go-forward or on the back of some good carries, we saw some guys shine,” he said. “We had opportunities on the back of that. It just came down to us doing the basics well initially to give us those opportunities and took a while to find our way to do that. We got there in the end and we saw guys like Roger (take advantage).

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“And I thought Rieko’s distribution was really good tonight – it’s come a long way. All the guys in the backline have a lot of talent so we just try and get the ball into space and let them shine. [Perofeta] is hard to handle at the moment; he’s really decisive and I’m just stoked for him.”

Barrett also acknowledged the continued growth of Tuivasa-Sheck, in his first year of playing rugby union professionally after a long career in the NRL.

“What I’m getting is a lot more solutions, feedback,” he said. “Rather than it only being one way, it is a two-way thing.

“That’s great, it just shows how well he’s understanding the game now and I think Rieko’s been a great help with him too, just offering his advice and I’m just happy to see Rog develop the way he has.”

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Coach Leon MacDonald had similar praise for the All Black-in-waiting.

“He’s just starting to play with a lot of freedom now,” the former test fullback said. “I think he’s not thinking about where he should be standing and what a spiral pass feels like. He’s thinking about playing rugby and he’s starting to get his eyes up and he gets excited when the ball’s around him and he wants to play and that’s really great.

“It gives guys like Beauden the confidence to let it go. Now he’s starting to become quite demanding of people around him when they’re not moving quickly or calling for the ball so I thought tonight’s another step forward for him.

“We need him to be that player. We need him to really stand up and his leadership skills that he’s shown with the Warriors, he’s able to start bringing that confidently to the Blues now.”

MacDonald was also pleased with the impact added by his substitutes – especially wing AJ Lam, who joined the fray shortly before halftime after utility back Bryce Heem went down with an injury. Lam scored a well-taken try from a Barrett up-and-under and was generally threatening whenever the ball was in his mitts – and could be in line for a start next weekend against the Brumbies.

“I thought he was brilliant,” said MacDonald. “He competed really well in the air, he defended well, he was physical, he was able to shrug a few tackles and get over the gain line for us.

“I suppose the game against the Waratahs gave him some extra minutes and a few guys were able to come [into this match] on the back of that game, come into the squad and do a good job for us. Zarn [Sullivan] came off the bench and put a nice little kick in and put a few good tackles in so some good confidence there from guys coming off the bench.”

The Blues will square off with the Brumbies at Eden Park next Saturday to determine who will play in the Super Rugby Pacific grand final a week later.

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