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'The perfect lock': Sam Whitelock's successor is done waiting

By Ned Lester
Scott Barrett wth ball in hand for the All Blacks. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Performances on a rugby pitch don’t get much better than Scott Barrett’s effort against the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe Test. The lock was industrious across the park, carrying, tackling, hitting the breakdown and telling Nic White to simmer down.

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The middle Barrett brother finished the match with 15 carries, three turnovers won, 10/10 tackles and was the first player at 17 rucks. But it was his impact in each of those interactions that was most impressive, dominating the collision area and contributing to scoring opportunities throughout the full 80 minutes.

Previous criticisms of Barrett have been over his discipline while a question mark over the Crusader’s utility prowess has reigned since he was named as blindside flanker in New Zealand’s 2019 Rugby World Cup semi-final loss to England.

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In the years since that loss, the 29-year-old has ironed out the crinkles in his game and in 2023 looks to be in career-best form.

“All season, I think he has been consistently outstanding for the Crusaders,” Commentator Tony Johnson told The Breakdown. “He has actually taken on the mantel.

“He’s knocked a couple of edges off his game, he still has the aggression, he still has the power, he’s moving bodies, he’s carrying effectively; The skillset is all there but he’s not giving away penalties – remember he did cop a couple of red cards earlier on in his career.

“He has become perhaps the lead figure in this All Blacks pack.”

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Just weeks ago Barrett wasn’t locked in as a starter let alone the form player of the forward pack. Prior to The Rugby Championship, the conversation was still concerning Barrett’s chops in the No 6 jersey and whether he or Shannon Frizell should start on the side of the scrum.

Now, Barrett has a mortgage on the No 5 jersey and is keeping 144-cap veteran Sam Whitelock out of a starting XV that has consistently featured Whitelock’s name since the 2011 World Cup.

“I don’t think we should say that Sam Whitelock is an impact player,” Sir John Kirwin added. “I think it was Graham Henry who invented it, that whole 23 (mentality).

“I think you just go, one of them’s going to come off the bench and at this stage Scott’s in the best form. His work rate is incredible so he is the perfect lock that’s getting in, doing the work; He can carry, he can support, he can do all that.

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“Everyone likes to be in the starting 15 but just as important nowadays, just as important are the people who are coming on and finishing the game. Sam came on last night and worked incredibly well, didn’t miss a beat. They didn’t bring Barrett off, they brought Retallick off.”

Whitelock’s nous as a “lineout scientist” will invariably steer the All Blacks through their preparation week with a plan to defuse the opposition’s set piece regardless of whether he starts or not.

The panel looked ahead to the second Bledisloe Cup Test as an opportunity for the wiley Whitelock to stake his claim at a starting jersey after missing the opening two games of the international season through injury.

A strong performance from the veteran may add some flavour to the debate but Barrett’s performances will make the No 5 a difficult jersey to win back. One thing the panel agreed on is having too many world-class players is a good problem to have and not one that Ian Foster’s counterpart across the Tasman was lucky enough to be enjoying: “I don’t think Eddie (Jones) is having the same problems,” Kirwin added.

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5 Comments
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Mark 351 days ago

Well guys as an Englishman and England supporter, I would love to have the conundrum you have re Barrett or whitelock.
Both world class operators.

P
Pecos 351 days ago

Well, no. as much as I love our Saders skip, Scooter hasn't earned a "mortgage" on the #5 jersey quite yet. It'll take more than a couple of good games against middle of the road opposition. Sam hasn't done anything wrong per se, he's been injured. A great headache for AB coaches.

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Turlough 4 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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