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FEATURE Scott Barrett comes of age to boost the All Blacks' World Cup crusade

Scott Barrett comes of age to boost the All Blacks' World Cup crusade
10 months ago

Everyone in New Zealand knew that the country’s greatest locking partnership would be broken up one day.

And when both Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock revealed earlier this year that they would be heading offshore after this World Cup, the timing of that end point was confirmed.

But the moment has in fact come sooner. The moment has in fact arrived, because Scott Barrett, who captained the Crusaders to their seventh consecutive Super Rugby title in July, has continued his career-best form with the All Blacks and established himself as the best lock in New Zealand.

At 1.96m, there has been debate for the last four years as to whether he’s best suited to lock or blindside, but these last few months have ended all that.

Barrett may lack the height of the 2.03m Whitelock and the 2.04m Retallick, and at 116kg, he’s almost 10kg lighter than them, too, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in mobility, aggression, work rate and subtle skills.

In the All Blacks three tests in 2023, Barrett has been the focal point of the new look pack. He’s been the go-to ball carrier, and it’s noticeable that he’s dropped his body height just a smidge and that it is paying dividends.

Even against the behemoth South African pack, Barrett was driving through bigger men and taking the All Blacks forward.

But it was his performance against the Wallabies in Melbourne that best illustrated the full array of what Barrett brings and that he is most definitely a lock rather than a blindside.

Scott Barrett
Scott Barrett showed off his all-court game to full effect against the Wallabies gaining praise from all quarters (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

His first meaningful act in Bledisloe one was to find a way through the lineout to smash halfback Tate McDermott after the Australian scrum-half had taken a tap down.

McDermott didn’t have time to do anything with the ball as Barrett smashed into his rib cage with such force as to almost fold the poor chap in half and the ball spilled loose behind the Wallabies goal-line and Shannon Frizell touched it down for a try that looked ridiculously easy.

It was a huge moment from Barrett, although he did say: “That I had to do something as I actually missed my first job which was to lift Brodie in the lineout.”

From there, he powered on through an amazing performance where he played an instrumental role in organising the maul defence, which was vastly improved from the game against the Springboks.

The last thing Foster wants is for Barrett to come off the boil. It is Barrett who is bringing much of the energy and dynamism with which the All Blacks are playing and that’s why he’s now the first-choice lock

Then there was his aerial work, and maybe most impressively of all, there was his defence.

The tackle on McDermott wasn’t his best. He made one on Marika Koriobete who seemed destined to score, but Barrett somehow managed to keep pace with the giant wing and then haul him down inches before the line.

It was an incredible moment in an incredible performance, which is why when head coach Ian Foster was asked to rate it, he said: “I would have thought nine out of 10, because if I give him 10 out of 10 he might have a lazy week. He’s playing really well.”

And the last thing Foster wants is for Barrett to come off the boil. It is Barrett who is bringing much of the energy and dynamism with which the All Blacks are playing and that’s why he’s now the first-choice lock.

He started the tests against South Africa and Australia alongside Retallick, games for which Whitelock wasn’t available due to injury.

Scott Barrett
The most capped international pairing of all-time, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock is at risk of being broken up by the form of Barrett (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Yet when all three were fit in Melbourne, it was Whitelock who was put on the bench, coming on for Retallick after 55 minutes, in a move that confirmed how the selectors are currently seeing their pecking order.

Whitelock and Retallick have played 64 tests together in a world record partnership, but they may not play many more now.

In all likelihood, as long as Barrett stays fit, the two veterans are fighting it out to see who starts and who takes a slot on the bench.

It’s a scenario no one was predicting at the start of the year, but while it may have grabbed the media’s attention, Foster says it’s not an unwanted or hard to deal with drama by any means.

“I am not sure why people think it is a headache [having competition for places at lock] because we want all our players playing well.

“I thought Brodie went well. He looked a little bit jaded, he went through a lot of work so there wasn’t a specific reason we made that sub.

It’s not just that Barrett can play as an auxiliary loose forward in terms of the area he can cover, it’s the acceleration he generates when he carries the ball which is now a critical part in facilitating the high-tempo game the All Blacks want to play

“But we have got a lot of faith in Sam [Whitelock] and he has been jumping out of his skin to get on the park and he played really well. “There are some nice options there and we have just got to look at the balance and get over who is actually starting and look at the combinations as we go through 80 minutes.

“We know you have to finish strong and make sure we nail every moment and we are working hard to get the right balance.”

When Foster says balance, he means that he wants to have the ability to produce dynamic, high-tempo rugby for the full 80 minutes.

And what is beginning to look likely, is that the All Blacks feel the best way to do that is to start with Barrett and Retallick and bring on Whitelock as the closer.

What sets the two likely starters apart is their mobility, but more critically, the speed at which they enter contact.

It’s not just that Barrett can play as an auxiliary loose forward in terms of the area he can cover, it’s the acceleration he generates when he carries the ball which is now a critical part in facilitating the high-tempo game the All Blacks want to play.

Sam Whitelock
As Sam Whitelock nears a return from injury, a discussion over his role will certainly take place with head coach Ian Foster (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Retallick provides a similar level of athleticism and dynamism and both men are adept at shuffling their feet, changing the line of attack and finding a weak shoulder to attack.

Whitelock, for all that he’s delivered world class performances since 2010, has never been a greatly dynamic ball carrier and was even dropped for one test in 2012 when he was told that he needed to find a way to stop being one-paced.

The Whitelock-Retallick partnership may manage one more outing before they both call time, but really, the end has already come.

What he does bring, however, is 13 years of Test experience, inspirational leadership, brilliant aerial work and a cool head, which is why Foster likes the idea of having him on the field in the last 20 minutes.

Big World Cup games can be tense and dramatic in the final quarter and having Whitelock’s presence on the field in the closing stages could be critical.

As Foster pointed out after the All Blacks had claimed the Rugby Championship in Melbourne following their 38-7 demolition of the Wallabies: “We know we had some growing up to do as a team coming into this year, and so far we’ve taken three pretty strong steps forward which we’re proud of. But I’m not sure it’s quite enough just yet.”

The Whitelock-Retallick partnership may manage one more outing before they both call time, but really, the end has already come.

Comments

2 Comments
G
Glen 325 days ago

As a South African I'd say SB is the most consistent rugby player in world rugby currently...and that includes Bakkies! AB most hope he stays fit. He beat us almost on his own...

C
Chiefs Mana 328 days ago

Barrett can also finish the game at Blindside which gives the coaches a nice option if Retallick is having a blinder. Would like to see Jacobson challenge Papalii for that bench loose forward role too.

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