News broke earlier this week that the Blues could be putting together an audacious bid for All Black playmaker Beauden Barrett.
Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock will both spend time away from Super Rugby, instead choosing to earn some big salaries in Japan. Both players will return for All Blacks campaigns during their ‘sabbaticals’.
Other options include giving up the All Blacks dream altogether and heading to France or the UK or simply just re-signing with a New Zealand franchise and continuing to permanently reside in the country.
Relocating to the Blues would certainly set a few tongues wagging. The transfer would also have a profound impact on a number of players and franchises New Zealand wide.
Whilst the news was ostensibly fuelled by insider information, it doesn’t take James Bond to figure out that a number of New Zealand sides would table offers to Barrett; the first five is one of the country’s leading players.
Barrett would significantly improve the standing of any team in the country, but his value is further inflated due to the fact that the Crusaders are the only side in New Zealand that actually have a proven controller in the 10 jersey.
So the fact that the Blues are tabling an offer for Barrett is hardly newsworthy – they’d be stupid not to at least try. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if all the Super Rugby franchises have been in contact with Barrett and his agent about a potential move when his contract comes to an end.
Further lessening the impact of the Blues’ supposed attempts to woo Barrett is the fact that there’s next to no chance that the Taranki-born flyhalf will actually relocate north.
Opportunities further afield
Until recently, eligibility for the All Blacks hinged on the fact that a player was signed to a New Zealand Super Rugby franchise and province.
Matt Todd was selected on last year’s northern tour after injury ruled out Sam Cane, even though he wasn’t on Canterbury’s books. Todd was granted special dispensation and got the call up from Japan in what thought to be exceptional circumstances.
New Zealand Rugby has now set a precedent that the top performers don’t actually have to be available for a Super Rugby side at all. Retallick and Whitelock will play in Japan’s Top League whilst still being eligible for an All Blacks call up (although Retallick has the option of taking an extended break in-between the 2020 and 2021 Top League seasons).
Playing professional rugby has an incredibly short lifespan and players are wise to try earn as much money during their careers as possible. The one thing that has kept Kiwi players in the country is the lure of the black jersey – but it’s now possible for New Zealand’s rugby elite to have their cake and eat it too.
Even if Barrett loves representing the Hurricanes, now would be the right time for the 28-year-old to take some time to build a future for him and his family.
This isn’t the first time that Barrett has been courted by a New Zealand franchise.
Barrett debuted for Taranaki in the 2010 NPC and was quickly handling offers from across the country. Whilst the then-teenager had a spot in the Hurricanes’ wider training squad, other franchises were willing to offer him a fulltime contract. At the end of the day, however, Barrett chose to stick with the team that he’d idolised growing up.
Naturally, it helped that the Hurricanes were then tied to Barrett’s home province of Taranaki and that his father, Kevin ‘Smiley’ Barrett, had represented the team in the mid-nineties.
In an era where provinces are sadly becoming less relevant to New Zealand’s rugby landscape, Barrett has always trumpeted the ties he has to his home region.
“I’m also a proud Taranaki man, proud of my roots and stoked to be recommitting to my home province,” Barrett said when he signed his last contract with New Zealand, Taranaki and the Hurricanes.
Barrett has now notched up over 120 caps for the Wellington-based team and is as much a talisman of the franchise as the likes of Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen and the late Jerry Collins.
His partner in crime, halfback TJ Perenara, recently also re-signed with the Hurricanes until the end of the 2021 season. The Perenara/Barrett duo is the most capped halves combination in Super Rugby history, with the pair combining for their 100th appearance only a few weeks ago. There’s every reason to believe that Barrett will want to continue to partner up with Perenara and help establish themselves as one of the best 9-10 combos in rugby history.
Heading to a perpetually sinking ship
Everyone knows the Blues have underperformed for the last decade and half – that’s not in question. Would Barrett really want to relocate to a franchise that has failed to achieve any reasonable results in the last decade, when little has been done to suggest that the team are on an upwards trajectory?
The Blues will once again finish near the bottom of the table in 2019. They’ve managed just one win away from home against other Kiwi opposition (and that was against an underperforming, injury ridden Chiefs side) this year and their performances against foreign opposition haven’t exactly been mind-blowing.
Leon MacDonald took over from Tana Umaga as head coach at the start of the season and while there may have been glimpses of promise throughout the season, they’ve ultimately looked no better in 2019 than they have in recent years.
Further decreasing the appeal is the lack of quality players that Barret would have supporting him in Auckland. At the Hurricanes, Barrett is blessed to have Perenara at 9 and Ngani Laumape or Jordie Barrett on his shoulder at second five. The Blues haven’t had a proven performer at halfback since Byrn Hall left (although Northland’s Sam Nock has been the best of a bad bunch this season) while their two premier second fives, Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu, are likely to be off the roster in 2020.
Guiding the Hurricanes to a title is already a reasonable enough challenge as it is. Accomplishing the same task with the Blues would be nigh-on impossible and it’s hard to imagine why a player would want to have the weight of New Zealand’s largest region resting on his shoulders when results are likely to be mediocre at best.
The latest in a long line of failed attempts
The Blues first tried to sign Barrett way back in 2011 – but they also attempted to bring him north for the 2014 and 2017 seasons.
It’s not just Barrett that has turned down the Auckland franchise, however.
Over the years, international superstars Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson and Juan Martín Hernández have all been reportedly approached by the Blues – and none of them have said yes.
There seems to be a belief that the only thing missing from the Blues in order to create a championship winning side is a star number 10. Which player would want to face those kinds of expectations by taking over the playmaking duties at the under-performing franchise?
There’s a very good reason why the Blues have failed in their recruitment drives – Barrett isn’t going to be the first player to fall prey to all that the Auckland side can promise him.
Ultimately, the Blues are never going to improve as a side unless they take a deep hard look at the problems entrenched in the region from the grassroots-level up. In the past, they’ve been quick to bring in young talent and even quicker to discard it when players don’t flourish in the first 24 months. They may think that a world-class 10 like Barrett can fix all their problems, but luring the first-five north is going to prove nigh impossible.
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