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'Phenomenal' Jordie Barrett shines in first midfield opportunity for All Blacks

By Tom Vinicombe
Jordie Barrett. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The All Blacks have thumped the Wallabies in Auckland to keep their chances of Rugby Championship glory alive but there was a bigger picture to consider at Eden Park on Saturday night.

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With the World Cup in France next year, the All Blacks now have little more than half a dozen Tests left to play before they go to battle with Les Bleus in the flagship competition’s curtain-raiser.

While some players have likely already secured their place in the team’s top line-up, there’s still a major question mark surrounding the centres. Anton Lienert-Brown is the most senior midfielder in the country but has spent the entirety of the Test calendar to date sidelined through injury while Rieko Ioane has stood out at times but is perhaps still best suited to the wing.

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A tactical shift in recent weeks has been kind to David Havili but it’s the man who started in the No 12 jersey at Eden Park that is perhaps the best option for the All Blacks.

While Jordie Barrett has locked down a starting role at fullback for NZ over the past 18 months, there are many who believe he’s best suited to the midfield, where he can make use of his playmaking capabilities as well as his sizeable frame. In some ways, he could act as both a traditional second five-eighth – like an Aaron Mauger – and a blockbusting ball-carrier, a la Ma’a Nonu in his earlier years.

In his first start in the midfield for the All Blacks on Saturday night, Barrett showed off both those sides of his game against the Wallabies.

When deep inside the 22, Barrett’s boot was used to great effect to send raking kicks down the field, while he was also regularly called upon to truck the ball up when the All Blacks needed to generate some momentum.

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Come the end of the match, Barrett had chalked up 17 runs – the most of any player on the field and seven more than the next busiest ball-carrier – as well as seven beaten defenders and four offloads. As far as first Tests go, it was a remarkable performance from a man who had already proven himself at Super Rugby level but has now shown what he can do in the international arena.

Unsurprisingly, All Blacks coach Ian Foster was over the moon with Barrett’s showing at No 12.

“I’m delighted with what Jordie gave us today,” he said. “I thought he had a phenomenal gave really. He was really physical with the ball, without the ball, he worked hard, he got some kicks in. He should be very proud of that effort.”

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All Blacks fans shouldn’t necessarily expect a permanent change in the backline, however, with Foster noting that the 25-year-old was also happy in the No 15 jersey and made it clear that Havili’s development in the midfield had also impressed throughout the season.

“I don’t know that he’s told me he’s been waiting a wee while to start at 12,” he said. “He loves playing for the All Blacks so he loves whatever jersey we give him.”

Regardless, Barrett’s impressive performance will be something Foster has taken note of. The All Blacks have four games left to play in 2022, with matches to come against Japan, Scotland, Wales and England, and Barrett could be asked to further showcase his talents in the midfield – especially with his older brother Beauden operating with aplomb at fullback on Saturday night.

For now, however, the Barretts and their teammates will take a well-earned rest before kicking back into action in late October.

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