Why Jordie Barrett at second-five for the All Blacks makes sense
I have one hesitation in continuing to spruik Jordie Barrett’s abilities as a second five-eighth.
Let’s put it this way: I’d far rather Barrett at second-five than Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
At least Barrett wears a mouthguard, which is something New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will have to tackle when Tuivasa-Sheck makes the team. I say makes, because I presume – rightly or wrongly – that NZR haven’t signed him to merely play franchise footy.
The way it’s been told to me, players effectively sign All Blacks contracts these days, rather than simply NZR ones. That partly explains why TJ Perenara, for instance, has continued to be a fixture in the squad, despite enough evidence to suggest he should not.
But I digress.
My reservation about Barrett not playing fullback is that some genius might decide that Stephen Perofeta should do instead.
Look, I’m sure Perofeta could run rings around test teams of no consequence. But, to me, he’s a poor man’s Damian McKenzie and we’ve seen how occasionally ineffective and error-prone McKenzie can be when it counts.
There was a book published, many years ago now, called All Blacks Almost. It chronicled the lengthy list of players who’d been stars in domestic rugby but, for one reason or another, never found their way into the country’s top team.
We’ve well and truly abandoned that model. Where once we might pick 25 All Blacks a season, only 16 or 17 of whom would actually play, now we routinely award caps to 50 blokes.
And then we wonder why NZR has to get into bed with an outfit like Silver Lake? So would you, if you had all those All Blacks wages to pay.
The point is, it’s no longer good enough for guys to be decent franchise players. It’s bad enough that we fans and media project All Blacks status upon all sorts of relatively mediocre players, the national selectors then go ahead and pick most of them.
And it’s natural, in those circumstances, for people to believe everyone in a winning team is a world-beater.
I won’t catalogue any myself, but I’m sure most of you could rattle off the names of a dozen players who’ve owed their All Blacks selection to being part of outstanding franchise teams without actually being elite footballers themselves.
But back to Barrett.
I genuinely think his size, physical presence and playmaking ability make him a compelling option to play 12. I think we’re largely pedestrian in midfield and need the punch and vigour Barrett could provide.
And I partly say that because I’m still not sold on Rieko Ioane at centre.
Great ball-carrier, sure, but if you want to play with width, as the All Blacks do, then it helps to have a centre who might occasionally pass the ball. Yes, Ioane can offload in the tackle, but only after he’s helped himself to the good ball first.
I’d still play Ioane on the wing and let him run to his heart’s content. There’s also less defensive decisions to be made there, which would suit him too.
Barrett would be a multiple threat in midfield, with his ability to carry, pass and kick. Too often opposition defenders are able to slide across, because they know the danger’s out wide.
Barrett would keep more midfield defenders honest and, in turn, create more space for New Zealand’s back-three.
But I doubt that’ll happen.
Barrett will be fullback, Perofeta will be picked (amid great fanfare) but rarely play, Tuivasa-Sheck and Ioane will be among those mixed and matched in midfield and Perenara will continue to accumulate caps off the bench.
I doubt 2022 will be a year when the selectors seek to make unpopular decisions. There’s ground to be made up with the rugby public and NZR might even insist Julian Savea makes an appearance or two.
Never mind that it’s wins, rather than feel-good stories, that fans actually care about.
It’s going to be a fascinating season.
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