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Scott Barrett's chance to secure his spot in the All Blacks' starting XV

By Tom Vinicombe
Scott Barrett. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

While it was seen by some as a stop-gap measure in the semi-final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, it’s clear that Scott Barrett is now viewed as a genuine option on the blindside flank by the All Blacks selectors.

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Barrett will once again don the No 6 jersey when the All Blacks take on the Wallabies in Melbourne this Thursday and there’s reason to believe the shift into the back row could be somewhat of a permanent change for the 28-year-old moving forward.

Barrett was also named at blindside flanker in New Zealand’s first Test of the year but with Sam Whitelock and then Brodie Retallick unavailable for selection in the matches since, Dalton Papali’i, Akira Ioane and Shannon Frizell have been given chances in the role, with Barrett shifting back into his more traditional locking berth.

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Frizell has made the most of his opportunities over the past three matches and could have possibly retained his spot at No 6 against Australia a rib injury suffered against Argentina – coupled with the return from injury of Retallick – means coach Ian Foster can once again name all three of Retallick, Whitelock and Barrett in the All Blacks forward pack.

“We were really pleased with his Tests against Ireland,” Foster said of Barrett. “Circumstances meant that we didn’t go there again but it’s an option we clearly want to keep our sleeve and use and it’s a great occasion for it.”

With all three locks fit and available, Barrett is probably third overall in the pecking order – but he could yet stake a claim as the team’s best option on the blindside flank.

Retallick, the man who has replaced Barrett in the second row, suggested that while running the full trio of second-rowers could add some height to the All Blacks lineout, Barrett will still be carrying out all the normal duties of a blindside flanker.

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“Obviously he’s a tall 6 – maybe he’s a bit taller than some of the other boys – but nothing changes too much in terms of his role,” Retallick said. “It just adds a bit more height.

“He runs our D lineout. He’s got a very good brain around lineouts so he brings a lot of knowledge there but he’s just filling in the role that any of the other boys do as a 6 as well so nothing’s changed too much.”

Openside flanker Sam Cane, meanwhile, will now have to operate with two new partners following the recent 53-3 win over Argentina, with Hoskins Sotutu also coming into the loose forwards for the unavailable Ardie Savea. That’s of no concern to the All Blacks captain, however.

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“Scooter [Barrett] has done a really good job at 6, the times he’s been called upon at the start of the year,” he said. “It just makes sense having the big man Brodie back, he loves these encounters.

“And then Hoskins has been patiently waiting for his opportunity [after] another impressive Super Rugby campaign. He’s been training the house down with us. He’s been putting in a good show in helping us prepare every week and I know he’s ready for his opportunities and excited about it.”

The new-look trio will be facing off with a fresh Wallabies triumvirate. Rob Valetini has retained his spot at No 8 but will be joined by Rob Leota and Pete Samu to round out a physically impressive backrow.

“They’ve picked a loose forward trio that they’re all good, strong ball carriers,” Cane said. “I think they’ll be anticipating the game’s going to be quite physical.

“I think the breakdown’s always important but often the result of a breakdown is how well the team is playing on top in terms of getting over the gain line with carries so I think they’ve picked a loose forward trio that will hopefully try and do that and it’s our job to nullify that and put it back over them.”

Thursday’s match between the All Blacks and Wallabies is set to kick off at 7:45pm AEST.

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