'You're in the 11 jersey, that's Jonah Lomu's jersey' - Jordie Barrett's journey across the All Blacks backline
At the highest level of rugby, few players in the backline can afford to only be comfortable playing in one position. Jordie Barrett is perhaps the most adept utility in the modern era, starting matches in four different jerseys for the All Blacks, and while some critics are quick to fire out the saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, Barrett is confident that playing across the backline has helped his overall game.
Barrett rose to the attention of the wider public during Canterbury’s Mitre 10 Cup title-winning run in 2016 when he played in the midfield, outside Richie Mo’unga.
While the Crusaders did come calling, Taranaki-born Barrett made the decision to sign for the Hurricanes, his local team. In his first season of Super Rugby, Barrett was utilised almost exclusively in the 15 jersey – though there were brief stints back in the midfield and on the wings.
The national selectors saw enough from Barrett in that 2017 Super Rugby season to call him up to the All Blacks and after debuting off the bench against Samoa, Barrett slotted in at fullback against the touring British and Irish Lions.
Since then, the 23-year-old has featured on both wings and, most recently, in the hallowed first five position for the New Zealand national side.
“Yeah it did feel different actually,” Barrett told RugbyPass regarding his first game at first five for the All Blacks.
“I‘d never really thought about the numbers thing and the whole aura around the jerseys, until the first time I played on the left wing. I think I’d just finished training and the team had just been released publicly or something and one of my mates texted me to say, ‘Far out, you’re in the 11 jersey, that’s Jonah Lomu’s jersey!’
“I’m very different from Lomu, obviously but I guess that spelled out a bit of the significance around the jersey numbers for me.
“That week I got the 10 jersey was pretty incredible. Obviously, Beaudie [Barrett] had been playing a lot at 10 and, of course, DC [Dan Carter] was my idol growing up. When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be like Dan Carter and so that was such a cool week. It was one of the most nervous weeks I’ve had in a long time but I enjoyed it. It was so satisfying coming off that field against Namibia.”
Barrett’s one and only time donning the 11-jersey made famous by the now-deceased Jonah was during last year’s Rugby Championship when New Zealand travelled to Argentina.
He’s also had just the one opportunity to run out with 10 on his back when he was tasked with guiding the All Blacks to a win against Namibia during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Perhaps that wasn’t the toughest of environments to be asked to cover a position you haven’t really played since university days (though, admittedly, that wasn’t too long ago for Barrett), but nothing’s a given in international football.
Coach Steve Hansen had absolute faith in his young utility, however, and despite suggesting that we likely wouldn’t see too much of Barrett playing first five in the future, he had no qualms entrusting him with the reigns for the Namibia game.
“We believe he has the skill-set and the confidence to do it,” Hansen said at the time. “He has played there before at lower levels. He’ll be fine. He’s been working on his patience and execution and coming into 10 will further enhance that.
“Hopefully, we don’t see him at 10 too many times. He’s a back-three player. As he gets older he may end up in midfield. He has a big boot, he’s good under the high ball. He’s brave with chase and catch, good handling skills.”
Luke Jacobson is one of the most promising loose forwards in New Zealand and, despite managing just 10 pro matches last year, was still selected to travel to the World Cup.
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There were suggestions at the start of the year that Barrett could be called upon to play first five for the Hurricanes as older brother Beauden has now shifted north to the Blues – but that’s unlikely to eventuate.
“When John Plumtree was around in pre-season, he asked me what my thoughts were on playing 10,” Barrett revealed. “But I told him that we’ve got three good 10s who are awesome.
“I wasn’t too keen on playing 10 and time’s shown now that Jackson and Fletcher have done an awesome job and they’ve been playing so well. I’ve enjoyed a good run of performances at 15 and I’m just trying to gain some consistency.”
Still, having the ability to fill in at the drop of the hat is the kind of attribute that will continue to be appreciated at all levels of the game – and there are other benefits too.
“Some people look at it and think being moved around can be a hindrance, especially at this time of my career,” Barrett said.
“But the way I’m thinking about it – and hopefully I’m right in a few year’s time – I reckon I’ll look back and be thankful for it because you learn so much in so many different positions. You learn what other players want from you, you learn how to attack and defend, you learn what’s easy and what’s hard and what not to do.
“Playing at 15, I can tell how a wing is going to defend now and which systems teams are using just from having played there. So hopefully, hopefully it helps me in a way, as my career progresses – but I’ve just enjoyed playing different positions.”
While Barrett is yet to start a match in the centres for the All Blacks, you get the feeling that he would have no troubles if the opportunity presented itself – though he admits that he’s “not too sure if there’s any thought of permanently going back to the midfield.”
Of course, that begs the question: could Jordie Barrett become the first All Black (and likely first international player) of all-time to start a match in every position in the backline, from 9 to 15?
“I’m not sure if there’s any six-foot-four or five 9s in the world,” Barrett quipped when asked whether he was considering asking to have a run at halfback. “So no, certainly not.”
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