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FEATURE Elder statesman Barrett poised to retain key role in Robertson's All Blacks

Elder statesman Barrett poised to retain key role in Robertson's All Blacks
4 months ago

For most of last year, New Zealanders were assuming that they were seeing the final chapter being written in Beauden Barrett’s Test career.

Barrett, whose New Zealand Rugby contract would expire at the end of 2023, announced long before the World Cup that he would be playing for Toyota Verblitz in 2024 and that he had an option to stay there in 2025.

It wasn’t clear whether he was saying that he had no intention or desire to still play in New Zealand, but the assumption was made that at almost 33, he’d take the easier life and better money on offer and commit longer-term to Japan.

Almost all his peer group – Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles – were doing just that, and surely, having played at three World Cups (in which he appeared in two finals, winning one), there wasn’t much left for him to achieve in New Zealand.

Beauden Barrett
Barrett’s try in the RWC final was his 43rd for New Zealand, only six behind Doug Howlett’s All Blacks record (Photo Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Besides, with new coach Scott Robertson coming in on a mandate to refresh the side in terms of personnel, style and culture, everyone wondered what chance Barrett would even have of making the All Blacks beyond 2023.

So when he collected Mark Tele’a’s bounce pass to score in the World Cup final to bring the All Blacks to within a point of the Springboks, it was widely assumed that would be Barrett’s last meaningful act in the Test arena.

In the days after the final, everyone expected to hear confirmation that Barrett had decided to take up the option of playing for Toyota in 2025, and that he was effectively retiring from international rugby.

But instead, in perhaps a way that only Barrett can, he flummoxed everyone when he announced that he had signed a four-year contract extension to remain in New Zealand through to 2027.

His stint in Japan would be for one campaign only, and he’ll be back in New Zealand in May, eligible and available to play for the All Blacks against England and Fiji in July.

It’s apparent that Barrett didn’t want that match to be his last in an illustrious career. So too is it probable that he was given some kind of reassurance, or confidence at least, that if he stayed in New Zealand, he would figure in Robertson’s thinking.

Whether his decision to stay in New Zealand long-term was a change of heart isn’t clear, but an educated guess would say that two things likely had a significant impact in swaying him to make the decision he did.

The first is the way the World Cup ended – with New Zealand coming up one agonising point short. How much that hurt the likes of Barrett and his fellow senior players is hard to exaggerate – especially given the confused and conflicting nature of the contest where the All Blacks suffered a red card to captain Sam Cane and yet, somehow still had opportunities to win.

It’s apparent that Barrett didn’t want that match to be his last in an illustrious career. So too is it probable that he was given some kind of reassurance, or confidence at least, that if he stayed in New Zealand, he would figure in Robertson’s thinking.

“Beauden brings an enormous amount of class to the table,” Robertson said after it was revealed Barrett was staying. “He is the second most-capped All Black back in history for a reason and to have his knowledge and experience in our game is a reflection of his loyalty.”

Beauden Barrett
Barrett missed out on a second RWC winner’s medal, but is set to add to his 123 All Blacks caps (Photo Michael Steele – World Rugby via Getty Images)

Robertson’s emphasis on experience heightened the sense that if Barrett were to still have a role with the All Blacks in 2024, it would primarily be as an elder statesman in the squad.

He was the All Blacks’ preferred full-back from mid-2022 through to the World Cup final, but throughout that period, there was a sense of frustration emanating from Will Jordan – the young Crusader who was being picked on the right wing to accommodate Barrett.

Jordan is recognised as one of the deadliest runners in the world game and was a critical strike weapon for the Crusaders, from full-back, in their championship wins between 2018 and 2023.

But while Robertson utilised Jordan at full-back with the Crusaders, Ian Foster felt the youngster was better suited to the wing when he played for the All Blacks.

Barrett is probably now going to be the team’s first-choice full-back at least for the July Tests and Rugby Championship. There is no other compelling option for Robertson to consider.

It was apparent that Jordan, however much he said he was grateful just to be selected, carried a little frustration that he was being picked on the wing.

During the World Cup he explained how he saw the differences between wing and full-back within the All Blacks. “On the full-back side you are more involved in the counter-attack and the kicking game. In terms of just roaming around the field and general attack shape, then the wing has more licence to go where you need to go and I guess full-back is more involved in the direction and organisation of moving the team around, whereas the wing can just pop up where he sees space.”

Jordan was seemingly hinting that while he was happy enough on the wing, he didn’t want that to be his long-term role, and that he was ready to be the back-field general and orchestrate the counter-attacks and kicking strategy.

Robertson had used Jordan brilliantly from full-back at the Crusaders and so why wouldn’t he do the same with the All Blacks in 2024? And with New Zealand also in need of a No.10 following the loss of Richie Mo’unga to Japan, mostly it was assumed that Barrett’s role would be mentoring Jordan and the likes of Damian Mackenzie and Stephen Perofeta, while playing the odd Test off the bench at either full-back or first-five.

Will Jordan
Will Jordan scored eight tries at the RWC and has 31 in 31 Tests overall, the majority from the wing (Photo Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

But now, following the news that Jordan is going to miss all of Super Rugby to have shoulder surgery, Barrett’s 2024 looks entirely different. Far from being a mentor and bit-part player, he’s shaping as an integral figure in the first year of Robertson’s tenure which will see the All Blacks play 14 Tests.

Barrett is probably now going to be the team’s first-choice full-back at least for the July Tests and Rugby Championship. There is no other compelling option for Robertson to consider.

Shaun Stevenson won a cap last year, but while he may be an attacking superstar for the Chiefs, there are concerns he’s not defensively robust enough to give the All Blacks what they need in their last line of defence.

The other contender is Ruben Love, who is a raw talent with much to learn. Love may be the sort of player Robertson wants in his squad this year to gently introduce into international rugby.

Ruben Love
Hurricanes full-back Ruben Love, 22, could be brought into the squad to understudy Barrett (Photo Will Russell/Getty Images)

What Robertson and his coaching team will also be aware of is that without Aaron Smith and Mo’unga, the All Blacks will be missing more than 200 caps of experience, and that with Mark Tele’a, Caleb Clarke and Emoni Narawa competing for wing berths – who have barely 30 Tests between them – the backline needs an older, wiser head.

Everything points towards Barrett still being a mentor figure in 2024, but very much an on-field leader and general. The All Blacks need his experience and ability to stay calm under pressure. They need his ability to guide the strategy both from the back-field and first receiver, and they also need his bravery under the high ball and under-appreciated tackling power.

And above all else, what the All Blacks need is his versatility – his ability to run, kick, pass and see space, because Robertson has made it clear that his objective this year is to build flexibility into the attack.

The All Blacks will face England in the depths of the New Zealand winter; Fiji at the height of the US summer; South Africa on the highveld and the heavyweight European trio of England, Ireland and France in November and he believes his team will be required to mix up entirely how they go about their business given the variety presented by the opposition and likely climatic conditions.

“The big part for this year is to win and evolve, so we can win in two to three different ways,” he said on Sky TV’s The Breakdown. “That’s the key to bringing success over a four-year period.”

Barrett’s last act in international rugby may still be a try, but it won’t be the one he scored in the World Cup final.

Comments

12 Comments
F
Flatcoat 133 days ago

Time for BB to retire from test Rugby. A grt player but his time is over. Blood new players’ plan for the next RWC. We will lose a few games but will be better for it by 2027.

S
Sam 134 days ago

We’ll still miss Mo'unga's composure, speed off the mark and smartness. Everyone else comes 2nd or 3rd by a wide margin.

G
Graham 134 days ago

Bring back Richie Mo’unga, he has proved for 8 long years how much better to the much vaunted Beaudy he is. Yes Richie is in Japan playing, but greater effort should have been made by NZR to keep him and now get him back. Richie is a genius no 10.Beaudy as a mentor ? He has had too much control for 5 years , including 2 World Cups.The dual play maker role with Barrett rushing in all the time undermined Richie , every step of the way.

A
Andrew 134 days ago

“…his ability to run, kick, pass and see space,..?

So where does his most common propensity in recent years to just hoof and hope come from?

You cant tell me that was very effective.

He will be a bench player at best in Razors team.

J
Jasyn 135 days ago

Or we could put some faith in an actual fullback who is yknow, actually a 15, and see how he goes. Better to find out now if some are up to it.

Barrett has spent most of his time lately dropping high balls and needlessly gifting possession away, to imply that the backline will fall apart without him there doesn't say much for the other guys. But with Leon MacDonald now the ‘back three selector’ Barrett’s name is probably already penned in.

P
Pecos 135 days ago

Makes sense for at least the early tests. But what position?

Of his 47 tests, D-Mac has started 23 at #15 & only 4 tests at #10. His other 20 tests were as 10/15 cover off the bench (guessing mostly to #15). So I wonder if D-Mac goes to #15 & BB takes the reins.

Food for thought.

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