Jordie Barrett: 'I think 12 is the most comfortable position for me'
Barrett has been named to start at No 12 at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Sunday, the first time he has played in the position at Super Rugby level since the Hurricanes beat the Stormers at home in March 2019.
A versatile player who can play all across the backline, Barrett has made a home for himself at fullback at the Hurricanes and All Blacks, becoming New Zealand’s first-choice option in the No 15 jersey last year.
That hasn’t prevented speculation from swirling about a positional switch, though, with many opining that the 25-year-old is a midfielder in the making.
Having grown up as a second-five, starring there for the New Zealand U20 side and Canterbury in 2016, there is plenty of reason to believe that Barrett could be a success as a midfielder at professional level.
“I think 12 is the most comfortable position for me,” Barrett said on Friday. “This week at training, I haven’t felt clunky, which is a good thing.”
Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland, who labelled Barrett as “the best fullback in the country” two years ago, added that he had been weighing up playing Barrett as a midfielder since his squad came together in pre-season.
“It’s always been one of the options we’ve had since pre-season. We feel it’s a good time to get Jordie in there,” Holland said.
Barrett’s comments echo those he made late last year on the What A Lad podcast, where he said in a wide-ranging interview with ex-Hurricanes fullback James Marshall that it is only a matter of time before he makes a permanent shift to second-five.
“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 said last December.
“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.”
The 36-test international’s eagerness to play as a No 12 is stark in contrast to what he said during last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, though, when he made it clear he wanted to continue to play fullback.
After scoring a hat-trick and all of his side’s points in a 30-19 win by the Hurricanes over the Highlanders in Dunedin last March, Barrett said he wasn’t “keeping any secrets” about his desire to play at fullback.
“I’m not keeping any secrets about where I want to play,” he said following his man-of-the-match performance at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“Everyone knows I want to play 15 and I’m enjoying playing 15 for the Hurricanes, and hopefully we can just keep building on this performance. It’s just the start for us.”
Nevertheless, Barrett’s selection in the Hurricanes’ midfield will be of significant interest for All Blacks boss Ian Foster, who is yet to nail down a regular, first-choice midfield combination since taking charge of New Zealand in 2020.
Under his tutelage, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Quinn Tupaea, Braydon Ennor, Peter Umaga-Jensen and Ngani Laumape have all been used in the midfield, but few, if any, have cemented a starting role there.
After impressing at fullback last year, and being trialled on the wing the year before that, Barrett is yet to play in the midfield under Foster’s stewardship, despite having played both second-five and centre for the Hurricanes.
One of Foster’s predecessors, highly-respected former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, believes there are plenty of benefits Barrett can offer as a second-five, as he told Stuff in an interview earlier this year.
“One out-of-the-box [solution] I reckon they could look at long-term is Jordie Barrett as a 12. Particularly if they lower the tackle height which I think they will. It’s going to bring in the offload,” Smith said in February.
“When New Zealand won the World U20 Championship with Jordie, that’s where he played. Second-five. He starred with Canterbury and that’s where he played, second-five.
“I’d really like to see him given a go there. He’s nice and tall, he can get the offload away. He’s strong.
“He’s one who could change the game a wee bit. His cross-field kicks are good, and the other thing is that, at second-five, often the decision is made for you when you get the ball. In some ways, it’s an easier position to play [than fullback].”
Coming up against a midfield pairing of Tupaea and Lienert-Brown this weekend, Barrett said that he will have to be on point if he is to help the Hurricanes clinch their third win of the year in what will also be their first bout with the Chiefs this season.
“I’ll need a bit of an edge going into the weekend playing against some quality midfielders in Quinn Tupaea and Anton Lienert-Brown, but I’ve felt good,” Barrett said.
“It’s exciting. I’m able to get my hands on the ball a lot and contribute. I’ve been asked to do something for the team, so it’s something I’ve just jumped into.”
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