Two All Blacks 'misfits' may have found their home in the midfield
It’s been somewhat of a long time coming, but Jordie Barrett will finally start a Test in the All Blacks midfield when he runs out against the Wallabies this weekend.
Barrett has previously played on both wings, at first five-eighth and, more typically, fullback for the men in black but there are many who believe the No 12 is where he’s best suited – and it’s where Barrett lined up regularly for the Hurricanes this year.
With David Havili out with concussion and Quinn Tupaea sidelined for the remainder of the season through injury, Barrett’s selection in the midfield is a bit of a ‘needs must’ situation for the All Blacks, but however the opportunity has come about for the 25-year-old, it’s one he’s been looking forward to for some time now.
“Yeah it is exciting,” Barrett told media on Thursday after being named in the No 12 jersey. “Another fresh challenge but it’s a challenge I’ve been waiting for for a wee while now so I can’t wait.
“I’m comfortable with playing 12 and it just presents another challenge at this level. Got a bit of a taste last week. It’s another Test at Eden Park against an Aussie side that’s hurting. I’m expecting a bit of traffic.
“I was a 10 until I was 15 years old and then slowly shuffled out to 12. Once I got into that professional level I was too skinny so I had to go out the back. Hopefully, now that I’ve got a bit more size on, I’m enjoying playing 12 again.”
Barrett will partner Rieko Ioane, another player who started out his Test career in the outside backs but has since found a semi-permanent role in the midfield.
“It’s been pretty good,” Ioane said of his combination with Barrett on the training ground. “[We’re] two misfits lining up in the midfield. As he said, it’s been a long time for both of us to arrive in this midfield.
“The training week’s gone pretty good. He’s a good talker so it makes my job a whole lot easier.”
“We weren’t initially in this team as midfield cover and to be lining up on Saturday, it’s going to be awesome,” Ioane further explained. “More five years ago [we were misfits], not so much now. I guess we’re probably not the prototype but who knows?”
Barrett, in some ways, could provide the attributes that have earned Havili and Tupaea chances in black over the past two seasons. He boasts the playmaking abilities of the former but at close to 100kg and not far off two metres tall, he can also bring some much needed bulk to the rule when asked to cart the ball forward and generate some momentum for his teammates.
“Jordie’s a strong carrier,” said Ioane. “He’s got a good pass-kick skill set, which is good. It provides another threat to our backline and I think just his skills from the back, coming from fullback, you need that vision.
“With [Havili] and Quinn gone down, he slots in perfectly to suit our backline.”
While Ioane’s switch from the wing to centre isn’t quite the same as Barrett’s switch from fullback to second five, he did offer some useful advice for his midfield partner ahead of Saturday’s clash:
“As a winger, you know what you want from your centre and likewise, Jordie tells me what he needs from me when he’s playing 15 so the same goes for him this week; he knows what our outsides want and you know with the deadly outside backs that we do have, getting them time on the ball is crucial for us.”
Barrett won’t come unprepared to the role, however, having spent ample time in the midfield throughout his junior years. While his shift to No 12 might be a stop-gap measure as far as Ian Foster is concerned, a strong performance against Australia on Saturday night could force a change in the coach’s thinking.
A big showing might even end Barrett’s journey across the backline – although Ioane isn’t so sure.
“[He’ll be] coach next week,” he quipped after applauding Barrett’s many positional changes.
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