Comment: Why Beauden Barrett is the only choice

Gregor Paul, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thursday, 9 August 2018, 8:04PM

It's no wonder All Blacks coach Steve Hansen seemed a little short and defensive earlier in the week when the inevitable questions came about whether it was time to change the guard at No 10 and begin the Richie Mo'unga era.

These sorts of media and public-driven selection debates erupt from time to time and tend to run to a somewhat unforgiving script where the selectors are first branded as pig-headed for not being swayed and then told their inability to see what everyone else sees is a sign the regime has become stale, complacent and ultimately doomed.

Hansen has been around for long enough to know that right now no one is listening to his entirely reasonable and considered response to those who want to see change.

He knows that the weight of opinion is in favour of starting Mo'unga ahead of Beauden Barrett at first-five against the Wallabies in Sydney.

There's no point in using rational, informed and valid reasoning as to why that is not going to happen as it tends to be the case that once an idea grips in the public conscious it won't be budged by words alone.

What it will take for this business to die down is for Barrett to provide a reminder of what really matters in test football and to deliver the sort of world class performance in the first Bledisloe Cup that he's consistently managed for the last two years.

He didn't have a brilliant Super Rugby campaign but that was largely because the Hurricanes didn't have a brilliant campaign either - certainly not in the last two months.

But stick him in an All Blacks jersey next weekend, playing behind a confident All Blacks pack and watch Barrett come to life and look a different player to the one he has in recent weeks.

That's happened so many times with so many other players that it is by no means an unjustified leap of faith.

The All Blacks bring out the best in their best players and Hansen knows this better than anyone.

In time his loyalty to Barrett will be vindicated - although it is in itself over the top to put it on those terms.

Barrett hasn't actually been that bad in recent weeks. Hansen hasn't been watching on, thinking he's got a massive job rebuilding - the confidence and form of his preferred playmaker.

Some time back in camp, a bit of a run in the Game of Three Halves and a few decent training sessions and Barrett should be ready to spark in Sydney.

And when he does, the picture will change quickly. Mo'unga has rightly been lauded in recent weeks for his pace, awareness and creativity - but surely no one can have forgotten that Barrett is the most electric running five-eighth on the planet?

How many defences has Barrett shredded in the last two years and has there been a more creative pass than the one he flipped to Nehe Milner-Skudder at North Harbour last year?

The All Blacks' success is built on them not making rash decisions to dispense with experienced, world class players because the public find a new favourite in Super Rugby.

It's kind of a big part of what makes the All Blacks the team they are - they know what qualities they value and what they need to win tests.

And experience is a huge part of what they need. Test football brings different pressures and is played at a different pace with different patterns. Experience isn't an imaginary quality or one that is overhyped by coaches.

Experience matters and it's tangible - has an obvious impact. Players with experience make better decisions. They won't always be obvious to everyone, but to the trained eye they will be and Hansen's eye is trained to the point he knows he'd have to be stark, raving mad to drop Barrett.


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