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Scott Barrett is the answer to one of the All Blacks’ toughest questions

By Finn Morton
Beauden, Scott and Jordie Barrett during the national anthems. Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

When Jerome Kaino said au revoir to New Zealand Rugby by signing with French powerhouse Toulouse in early 2018, the search for the All Blacks’ next great blindside flanker intensified.

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Kaino set the bar high during his decorated career in black, and the New Zealand rugby public have looked to the legendary blindside as the blueprint to the position in the five years since.

But the All Blacks have failed to find Kaino’s long-term successor – which is ironic.

The answer to this seemingly never-ending rugby problem has been right in front of All Blacks’ selectors the entire time.

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Kaino started all three Test matches during the drawn series against the British and Irish Lions in 2017, but things took a turn during the remainder of the international season.

Personal reasons and injuries plagued the veteran’s campaign, and the first of many trialists were called upon to follow in a giant of the All Blacks’ footsteps that year. Kaino didn’t start at blindside flanker for the All Blacks ever again.

Highlanders loose forward Liam Squire started four Tests in the legendary No. 6 jersey during The Rugby Championship, and Hurricanes star Vaea Fifita started the other two.

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Squire continued to hold down the fort during the first two Tests of 2018 against France, before Shannon Frizell was named to start in the third clash in Dunedin.

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Frizell, Squire and Fifita would all get a run that year – but only one went to the World Cup in Japan. Fifita was overlooked, and Squire made himself unavailable due to personal reasons.

Even Ardie Savea was thrust into the role against the Wallabies just before the last World Cup.

Since, other players including Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papli’i, Ethan Blackadder and Akira Ioane have attempted to make their mark as All Black regulars.

But so far, no luck. It hasn’t all been for nothing though.

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Crusaders captain Scott Barrett, who is among the best locks in Super Rugby Pacific, was back in the No. 6 jersey for the champion franchise in round 15.

It was Barrett’s first start at blindside flanker this year.

But it’s not exactly a position he’s completely foreign too, either.

Barrett was a shock inclusion in the starting side at blindside to play England in the semi-final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Yokohama, and it was an intriguing experiment.

Going into that tournament-defining clash, this selection was exciting.

But hindsight is a gloriously obnoxious thing.

While it was an exciting indication of Barrett’s potential with the All Blacks, it was arguably the wrong time to give it a go.

In the years since, Barrett has played a vast majority of his rugby in the second row. It’s almost like that semi against the English never happened.

In the eyes of some, it failed – so let’s move on and never speak of it again.

But that would be disastrous.

The real loss, mistake or regret would be to give up on this so called ‘experiment’ completely.

The 29-year-old started another Test against England during last year’s end-of-season tour, and has otherwise shown plenty of promise and potential in the position for both club and country.

Last weekend’s clash against the Hurricanes at Sky Stadium was another example.

Barrett showcased the very best of his versatility – proving to the rugby world why that this is an idea worth trying time and time again.

The towering forward was a menace in both attack and defence. Barrett finished with the second-most carries out of any Crusaders forward, and also made a staggering 18 tackles.

But, importantly, Barrett also provided Codie Taylor with another primary option at the set-piece.

That’s crucial.

It’s no secret that this year’s Rugby World Cup in France is set to be the most competitive iteration of the prestigious tournament ever.

Northern hemisphere sides including France and Ireland go into this year’s tournament with not only belief but favouritism.

And their lineout is an undeniable strength.

If the All Blacks decided to run with the likes of Shannon Frizell of Akira Ioane at blindside flanker, the pair would bring some powerful physicality to the line-up.

But whether or not they’re up to the standard as world-class options at the set-piece is certainly up for debate. In comparison to Barrett, though, there’s no denying his skillset.

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Even Rugby World Cup hero Stephen Donald would select the Crusaders’ skipper at blindside flanker, saying on SENZ that Barrett would “add the extra punch at six to compete with some of these massive packs.”

Alongside the formidable and longstanding duo of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in the second row, the All Blacks can add another weapon to their arsenal.

But it all comes back to one of the toughest questions facing the All Blacks.

Who is the next Jerome Kaino?

If the All Blacks want to win this year’s Rugby World Cup, then there’s one option that stands clearly above the rest.

Scott Barrett can help the All Blacks deliver a record fourth Webb Ellis Trophy to a small rugby-mad nation at the bottom of the world – but he can’t do it as an under-utilised talent on the bench.

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Comments

19 Comments
R
Ruby 402 days ago

It depends on who you've got at 7 and 8, Ardie has pace but Sam Cane doesn't, Barrett at 6 with Cane at 7 gives us a slow and not particularly agile pair of flankers, it might work better with Dalton at 7, it would certainly be less of an issue with a young Openside like Kirifi but he won't be called up until next year.

M
MitchO 403 days ago

Tragic that the fourth or fifth best ab lock of the last 5 years has been Jeremy thrush. Now pat t has a broken arm. Scooter has to be a lock first. 3rd best nz has. There c are some class 678s but ab coaching letting the nation down. Have to pick Ardie somewhere in the backrow. Akira has refused to perform so goodbye. Frizzle possibly. Grace black adder papali the guy who awesome last week at 8 in super rugby against the brumbies I think. Robinson maybe? Appreciate the love for kaino but there’s plenty of of talented 6 and 8s. Jerry was good

S
Shayne 404 days ago

Brodie is past it, need Scott there Blackadder at 6

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Greg 404 days ago

I'm with you, Finn. Scott at 6, and a move to lock later in the game, which would enable us to have two loose forwards on the bench to come on and lift the pace in the last quarter.
Scott delivers huge power both sides of the tackle and is a genuine line-out option. He would be up there with the best international 6s - Courtney Lawes, Ollivon, Du Toit. Great admiration for Blackadder, but he's a lightweight compared to those giants and should be in as a 7 or not at all.
Scott's miss against Ioase was late in the game (when Scott might have been moved into lock by the ABs) and Ioase, as he demonstrated the week before, has more pace than most No. 8s Scott will meet in the RWC.

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edward 404 days ago

18 tackles doesn't mean much if he misses the one that leads to the try which is what happened against the Hurricanes

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Ngutho 404 days ago

Scott at 6 is great, but the ABs selectors should opt for Blackadder at blindside. The opening game will be a true test for scooter at 6.

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Nickers 405 days ago

Weakening a strength to strengthen a weakness is a bad idea. Something the ABs seem destined to repeat every 4 years at the World Cup with the exception of 2011 and 2015.

We NEED 3 world class locks in the big games. A much bigger worry is how big a gap there is to our 4th best lock. Frizzell is a considerably better international 6 than than Vaai or Tuipolotu are international locks. Moving Barrett to 6 is the same as switching Frizzell for one of those 2. Based on last year's performances that would be a weakening of the pack overall.

A
Another 405 days ago

I think the main motivation to put Scott Barrett on the blindside -who has been the most consistent driving AB forward for the last few years to be fair - is because the selectors don’t want to break up the Sam Whitelock/Brodie Rettalick combination at lock.

Scott Barrett can handle the blindside role well in some circumstances - he adds a lot of size and height to the pack. However, he isn’t the magical panacea at blindside that this writer seems to think. I actually think he would be best starting at lock and then shifting to blindside later in the game when defences may be tiring.

It seems to be a given now that both Cane and Savea will start, with Papali’i being the back up open side. I’d prefer to have somebody like Frizell, Blackadder or Luke Jacobson start at blindside, and then shift Barrett there from lock in the second half of the game. He could do this in tandem with Papali’i coming on at the same time, to create a massive back row.

This, of course means that we would have to rest Retallick or Sam Whitelock for the first half the game also - but actually, I think the impact would be devastating when they come on to the field too. If you are also bringing on other powerful forwards like Taukei’aho and Tamatai Williams all at the same time, you can imagine the sheer power that would be inflicted on the opposition packs.

It is a 23-man game now, over 80+ minutes. Tactics of team selection should reflect this. Have a team that has both a starting pack and a finishing pack.

G
G 405 days ago

Blackadder is the best choice since there not another Kaino available. The Semi "experiment" (trying to surprise his buddy Eddie?) was one of the reasons why the ABs lost vs England and that is why Hansen replaced him at half time.

Jordie did not help the cause with his last 20 mins either.

Anyway Hansen and Foster were outcoached by Eddie that day

A
Anand 405 days ago

Hopefully he can play a clean game or get away somehow. His caused more fouls than any other AB

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Jon 3 hours ago
How Maro Itoje terrorised the All Blacks lineout

Yeah England were much smarter, they put their much vaster experience to use in both the scrum (bending/not taking hit) and lineout (Itoje early sacks) law vagaries. Really though, I know what is there, I’m more worried about Englands locks. We only got to see Itoje and Martin, right? Depth allround in the England camp was probably the difference in the series and the drop off when Itoje reached his minutes limit for the season (it was like the plug was pulled from the charger) was up there with keeping Sexton on the park in that quarter final. What happened there? You have a lot of watching hours experience with locks come blindsides Nick, especially with a typical Australian player make up, have you see a six the size of Barrett absolutely dominate the position and his opposition? I can easily see Scott, and even Martin for that matter, moving to the blindside and playing like Tadgh Beirne with the amount of top locks we have coming through to partner Patrick. Still with the English mindset, because despite running the best All Black team I’ve seen in a long time close, they do need to find improvement, and although I thought they had a lot of good performances from their 7’s (over the years), I really like the prospect of Cunningham-South in his 8 spot and Earl on the open. Can you see Martin as mobile enough to take over Lawes? I absolutely loved his aggression when Jordie ran upto him to try and grab the ball. That alone is enough reason for me to try him there.

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