The time has come for Beauden Barrett to deliver the Blues what they wanted
The Blues’ major signing of All Black Beauden Barrett back in 2019 was made really for one reason, which was to end the title drought extending back to 2003 and resurrect the club to relevance again.
While the Blues were able to break that championship drought in 2021 with a Trans-Tasman crown without Barrett, it was done without having to get past the Crusaders, the winners of five titles in the last five years.
Few could really say the Blues have proved to be best based on that Trans-Tasman title, particularly after two heavy defeats in the same year to the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.
The Crusaders hurdle remains, which presents the next challenge for the Blues in their quest to truly get back to the top of the Super Rugby pile.
They have not beaten the Crusaders in this new era of Blues rugby under Leon Macdonald, losing five from five. They got close in 2019 with two tight losses in his first year as head coach.
In Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020, the two sides met in Christchurch for one of the most anticipated Kiwi derbies in years. The Blues were on a run and building something legitimate that many felt could topple the red and black machine.
When Rieko Ioane plowed through tackles from Will Jordan, David Havili, and Richie Mo’unga to score next to the posts and give the Blues a 15-9 lead with 25 minutes remaining, it felt like a power shift was really happening. The Crusaders don’t lose at home, let alone to the Blues.
Otere Black’s conversion was charged down, costing the Blues a crucial two points, and Mo’unga sparked a comeback that saw the Crusaders storm home and win 26-15.
After that loss, the Blues have endured misery at the hands of the Crusaders getting thrashed twice last year 43-27 at home and 29-6 away, games that Barrett missed.
The structure of Barrett’s four-year deal meant that 2022 was really going to be the beginning of his time at the Blues, fully committed to the club.
He had an extended break in 2020 post the World Cup but joined up with the club unintentionally for Super Rugby Aotearoa after the pandemic changed everything. However, he was forced to slot in at fullback to make it work. His sabbatical clause allowed for a Japan stint in 2021 that saw him miss the entire season last year.
That was all known back when he signed, and the Blues were prepared to accomodate and wait. Now the time has come for Barrett to deliver for the Blues what they bargained for, and he couldn’t have a better chance at doing so.
Otere Black has moved on, allowing Barrett to slot back in his preferred position at 10 to guide the Blues backline. He is going to have a generational talent in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck outside of him at 12, and another one two positions over in Rieko Ioane.
There is no shortage of firepower and playmakers for the Blues to build an attacking juggernaut around. The pack will miss Patrick Tuipulotu, but does comprise mostly of an All Black front row and loose forward trio.
Barrett himself has gone through the challenging middle trough of his career, going from superstar 10 to makeshift fullback all the way back to bench reserve for the All Blacks. In between, he became the villian by breaking up with the Hurricanes and endured the wrath of public opinion.
It feels like he is coming out on the other side now, just as the new hero Mo’unga starts his own chapter with challenges after failing to live up to expectations.
The tide started to turn in 2021 as a rejuvenated Barrett started a string of games at first five for the All Blacks while Mo’unga understandably stayed at home. The consequence of that is he may have just given back the All Black 10 jersey to his Blues’ rival, who showed again why he will go down as an All Black legend.
The 30-year-old was still producing big plays in his 100th test and when Mo’unga returned for the biggest games of this World Cup cycle, his performances fell flat and underwhelmed.
Barrett is entering what could be the final two years of his New Zealand playing career, with the World Cup in France his swan song. You’d never say never, but he is not contracted past 2023. With the end near, he may flourish as he puts everything into his final chapter at home.
That starts with getting the Blues to a place where they haven’t been in decades, and getting the monkey off the Blues’ back by beating the Crusaders.
Barrett himself has a score to settle, having lost two Super Rugby semi-finals in Christchurch in 2018 and 2019 as a key figure with the Hurricanes, including his last game in yellow as they fell short in a 30-26 thriller.
After playing as the All Blacks’ 10 for three years leading up to the 2019 World Cup, the plans were drastically altered and went off-script at the 11th hour. Now, he could become the preferred starting All Blacks 10 again in time for another go.
There will never be a better opportunity to make those things happen as the Blues’ 10 this year.
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