Twice named World Rugby Player of the Year for his breathtaking exploits from first-five, it’s a position Barrett hasn’t started in since the All Blacks‘ Rugby Championship victory over Argentina last year.
Whether it’s been with Richie Mo’unga for the All Blacks or Otere Black with the Blues, Barrett has been seen only exclusively in the No. 15 jersey over the past year, which has drawn some criticism in recent weeks.
A nullified impact on attack from the backfield was among the focal points of negative press aimed at Barrett after last week’s defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Many lamented the fact that, while his vastly improved kicking game had been exemplary in the opening half of the Kiwi domestic competition, the 83-test star’s world-class attacking ability with ball in hand had yet to be seen.
UK scribe Stuart Barnes even went as far to label Barrett playing at fullback as a “liability” while writing for The Times, stating: “New Zealand rugby is in danger of turning one of the most original talents in the history of the sport into a liability.”
While again named to play at fullback against the Hurricanes upon his return to Wellington for the first time since his high-profile transfer last year, the 2016 Super Rugby champion showed glimpses of what he is capable of on attack.
Sandwiched between that try, though, were two defensive mishaps on Ngani Laumape, the first of which saw Barrett uncharacteristically skinned for pace on the left wing by the burly second-five.
The second error resulted in Barrett being simply bulldozed by his former Super Rugby teammate, but it is his try-scoring effort that will ease concerns from those who expressed doubt surrounding his attacking prowess since moving to the Blues.
It highlighted the threat he poses from being able to dictate play so close to the defensive line, which is why many have called for him to return to first-five from fullback.
A first half injury to Black in Saturday’s clash may have paved the way for Barrett to do just that, with the latter speaking of his desire to return to the No. 10 jersey as Blues head coach Leon MacDonald revealed the former was sent to hospital for scans as a result of a collision with Ben Lam.
“He’s had to shoot off to hospital to get a scan on his neck. It’s pretty bad. He wanted to play on. He thinks he’s 110kg and bulletproof,” MacDonald told media at the post-match press conference.
“It’s a pretty sore neck, he can’t turn it. The sensible thing was we subbed him and obviously we’ve got a decent first-five who came on and did a job for us.”
How long Black will be sidelined for is yet-to-be-determined, but the Blues are in good stead should the Maori All Blacks representative be ruled out of action for a lengthy period as Barrett looms as his likely replacement.
“I enjoyed that role and it’s obviously my preferred position. I’ve been training there for the second half of trainings in case Otey got injured I’d be ready for that,” Barrett said.
“I’m just happy to be playing where I can get ball in hand, that’s where I feel that I have more influence.”
That should signal warning signs for the winless Chiefs, who will travel to Auckland to face the Blues next Sunday in a bid to redeem themselves for their 24-12 loss in the reverse fixture in Hamilton last month.
The task of taming Barrett in his favoured position is daunting enough as it is, but throw in the expected returns of Hoksins Sotutu from a knee injury and Caleb Clarke, who attended his grandfather’s tangi this weekend, and the Blues will be heavy favourites to end their run of back-to-back defeats.
“He [Sotutu] is keen to go and we’ll see how he fronts,” MacDonald said.
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