Scott Barrett is the answer to one of the All Blacks’ toughest questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
But so far, no luck. It hasn’t all been for nothing though.
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.
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, disaster 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.
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.
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.”
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 a under-utilised talent on the bench.
Join free and tell us what you really think!Join Free