'Very uncharacteristic': Barrett's response to Bridge's blunder
Barrett was a pivotal figure in New Zealand’s tense 19-17 win over the Springboks at Queensland Country Bank Stadium as he was cool, calm and collected both off the kicking tee and amid South Africa’s relentless aerial bombardment.
The 24-year-old didn’t miss a kick at goal and slotted the match-winning penalty late on in the piece to give the All Blacks a hard-fought victory over their fierce rivals in their 100th clash against each other.
Barrett’s influence on the outcome extended to his ability under the high ball as he defused the box kicking of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard’s bombs time and time again.
As a result, the 31-test international provided the All Blacks with a firm sense of safety in the backfield, but that feeling of security came under threat early on in the match when a spillage from Bridge gifted the Springboks their only try of the test.
De Klerk launched a sky-high box kick from the middle of the park in the sixth minute, which Bridge looked to field from inside his own 22.
However, the 26-year-old wing inexplicably coughed the ball up 10 metres from his own tryline, which allowed Springboks wing Sbu Nkosi to pounce on the loose ball and run in an easy try.
Speaking about the incident on Sunday, Barrett conceded that it was out-of-character of Bridge to drop the ball from a seemingly regulation box kick, but reassured reporters of his teammate’s ability under the high ball.
“It was very uncharacteristic of George,” Barrett said when asked what he said to Bridge after his high-profile error.
“We watch him at training and we watch him every week and he catches everything, literally, and, ironically, I think in that game, a couple of minutes later, he took a near-impossible catch right on the sideline.
“Look, I didn’t say too much to George. I know what he’s capable of, and so does he, and we were just about getting on with what was coming and it didn’t take too long before the ball was back on his head.
“We were expecting it, but we’ve still got to be able to deal with it, so we weren’t as good as we would have liked to be as a unit, admittedly, but, like I said earlier, I think we might have taken one or two or enough [high balls] to win the test match in the end.”
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Much had been made in the lead-up to the heavyweight bout between the All Blacks and Springboks of South Africa’s incessant kicking strategy that continually looks to put the opposition back three under pressure.
What wasn’t mentioned, though, was the execution of de Klerk’s box kicks, which, according to Barrett in his post-match television interview, wreaked havoc with him, Bridge and fellow outside back Will Jordan.
Barrett told Stan Sport that the variation of spins that de Klerk was putting on the ball with each of his kicks made it difficult to read the ball’s trajectory.
That could, in part, explain Bridge’s mishap, especially as he was backtracking to field the ball, but Barrett said he and his teammates now have time to devise a plan to deal with those various types of kicks after being exposed to them two days ago.
“I have before, just in moderation, obviously,” Barrett said when asked if he had ever faced box kicks like de Klerk’s.
“I’ve never had that many contestable kicks to deal with in a game. It is pretty hard to combat, but it was a challenge I was kind of relishing last night. It was actually pretty exciting. Every time they’d set up for a box kick, I just knew it was a chance to go up and own the space in the air.
“I guess we’ve got to find some ways to combat that because they throw a lot of different scenarios at us. They’re doing it from their attacking 22 and putting it on the head of isolated guys with plenty of chasers, so it can be hard to deal with and, this week, we have plenty of time to come up with a plan.”
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