If you surf the web for the name Kevin Barrett in relation to rugby, you will probably get more results for an Exeter Chiefs scrum-half than you would for an old ex-Taranaki second-row forward. But be in no doubt: it is ‘Smiley’ Barrett, an uncompromising if slightly undersized lock from the North Island, who has had by far the greatest impact on modern professional rugby.
He is the father of not one, not two, but a trio of the most outstanding players anywhere on planet rugby. The man himself predicted he would put his farm to good use and ‘breed some All Blacks’ upon his retirement, and that is exactly what has transpired. Prophetic indeed.
There was a convenient set of goalposts on a back lawn composed of several acres of lush green grass, and no shortage of cousins to fill out the competition for Beauden, Jordie and Scott. They were multi-talented and might even have taken their pick between rugby and cricket, but that view to the poles made all the difference.
As the youngest of the three, Jordie, told CNN: “In the end, rugby just made a decision for itself, really.
“I enjoyed my cricket growing up and played it right until first year at university – basically until I couldn’t play both, and it was as simple as that.”
The most remarkable reality of all is New Zealand’s band of brothers is still developing. After an average Super Rugby Pacific 2023 season at fly-half for the Blues, 32 year-old Beauden has slotted seamlessly in at full-back, and the alternate first receiver role at national level, while 26-year old Jordie has confirmed he is the right man for the hard yakka and triple threat requirements of 12.
But it is the least-heralded of the trio who has taken the biggest strides forward in 2023, at the ripe old age of 29. After his all-round game against the Wallabies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Scott ‘Scooter’ Barrett received the ultimate accolade from one of New Zealand’s most ferocious and revered opponents, Springbok giant Bakkies Botha. He did not waste his words on Twitter when he said simply, “Scott Barrett is a next-level lock.”
Towards the end of June, I pondered the possibility of Barrett filling a hole at blind-side flank in the Test side, but Shannon Frizell’s outstanding contribution against South Africa in the Rugby Championship decider has put that idea on hold if it has not taken it off the table altogether.
The man who really matters in selection, All Blacks forwards coach Jason Ryan, commented recently: “Well, I think he [Barrett] is probably one of the best locks in the world at the moment.
“We see him as a lock who can cover six. Yeah, he can [play six], but Shannon Frizzell, I mean, you know, is he going alright or is he going good?
“We also have a couple of young bulls [Josh Lord and Tupou Vaa’i] that are just chipping away in the background quite nicely as well. So yeah, we’re pretty happy with that combination.”
“That’s not to say that we wouldn’t slip in [him] there, but first and foremost, we see him as a lock who can cover 6.”
Neither man is huge by modern standards – Beirne is listed at 1.98m and 113KG, with Barrett one centimetre shorter and two kilos lighter – but what they lack in outright size, they more than make up for with work rate, and a broader range of impacts crossing over into back-row, or even centre territory.
Take a look at the stats from the match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground:
- In attack, Scott Barrett ranked first among all New Zealand tight forwards for ball-carries made – 16 runs for 42m with one line-break, four tackle busts, four defenders beaten and six passes made.
- He was even more influential in defence, with three dominant hits and one forced fumble out of a total of 11 tackles at a perfect 100% completion rate; two more steals at the breakdown and one other fumble recovery added for good measure.
Perhaps the most telling fact of all was not statistical in origin. It was Scott Barrett, not Brodie Retallick, who called the New Zealand lineout to a 100% success rate right from the start of the game. When a change finally came in the 50th minute, it was Scooter who stayed on and Retallick who left, to be replaced by his own spiritual brother-in-arms Sam Whitelock. There is just the glimmer of an implication that it is Barrett, not Retallick or Whitelock, who is now perceived as essential to Kiwi second-row success at the World Cup.
The key foundation stone for any second row who aspires to bring a broader skill-set to the game is that he/she does the core jobs to a high standard. Scott Barrett showed his value at the lineout maul, more than holding his own against Wallaby behemoth Will Skelton despite giving up over 35KG in weight.
Barrett calls the 5m lineout throw to himself, then does a great job of shielding Skelton, Australia’s primary maul defender, away from the drive’s intended direction of travel towards the corner-flag. Skelton cannot break the seam between Barrett and Frizell until it is far too late, and as soon as the number five jersey pivots and turns upfield, the game is up for the Wallaby maul defence.
Barrett was equally effective defending against the Australian lineout drive.
The key for Barrett and Frizell is to move the Australian number six Jed Holloway off the infield corner of the drive. As soon as Barrett is able to pass Holloway’s outside shoulder on the ‘swim’ and knife through on to ball-carrier Dave Porecki, it kills Wallaby momentum.
But Barrett’s single biggest point of difference is his ability to link to the backs in defence. That means he is often expected to make tackles on backs himself in a vulnerable area, on occasion when the odds are heavily stacked against him.
It was one of those times in the game when a Wallaby attacking move worked out well. They have the mismatch they want – a centre versus a second-row, Samu Kerevi versus Barrett. No tight forward has any right to make up all that distance on the short side to stop a back as powerful as Kerevi from scoring a try in the corner, but that is exactly what Barrett does. The ball was held up on Will Jordan’s shins in-goal and the All Blacks relieved the pressure via a goal-line dropout.
Barrett made the highlight reel for his crushing early tackle on Tate McDermott from a 5m lineout which gifted Frizell the easiest touchdown he will ever enjoy in international rugby.
Every bit as important was his connection to the backs in the kick-chase, and the fumble recovery which set up the position in the first place.
After Retallick was replaced by Whitelock in the 50th minute, Barrett still had more than enough energy to be making turnovers at the breakdown in defence.
In attack, he was still running half the length of the field and delivering delicious line-breaking assists a la Kieran Read in the 67th minute.
Barrett is not just linking with the backs in the 15m channel, he is beating three defenders first, then judging the basketball-style offload to perfection to take play deep into the Wallaby half. A couple of phases later, New Zealand were scoring a try in the right corner.
If he moves to blind-side, Barrett can fill the shoes ofFrizell and turn in a performance of true All Black standard in the back row. If he stays in the second-row according to Ryan’s preference, he has arguably moved past two greats of the modern era in Retallick and Whitelock to become New Zealand’s main man.
Barrett is coming into his own: not only as the number one lock in New Zealand, but currently as the best of an outstanding band of rugby-playing brothers. When Beuaden brought the William Webb Ellis trophy back home after the 2015 World Cup, his father filled it with milk from cows on the farm, and the brothers all took a deep draught. Right now, it is Scott who is the cream of the crop.