Incredibly, the current IRB Player of the Year seems to keep taking his game from strength to strength. Last weeks game against the Crusaders notwithstanding, he’s put on attacking masterclass after masterclass, his cross field kicks the latest weapon unleashed in his ever increasing armoury.
With the All Blacks injury toll mounting, he is undoubtedly the most critical All Black in the Lions series…and then there’s daylight. His virtuoso performance against Ireland in Dublin last November showed that he can single handedly propel the men in black to victory, similar to the man he’ll be trying to emulate against the Lions, Dan Carter. It was 12 whole years ago, but Carter’s second test performance was so good it is still routinely brought up today, nothing since has matched it. Barrett could and should have a Carter-like impact on the Lions series, he is proving to be that good (and crucial) a player.
A look at the stats so far in the 2017 Super Rugby season for kiwi first fives underlines this. Barrett separates himself in most attacking categories by some way, with only Richie Mo’unga close. I don’t think anyone is ready for Mo’unga to be running the cutter for the ABs, some in Christchurch don’t even think he should be doing it for the Crusaders right now.
If we pretend for a moment that there is actually competition for the All Blacks number 10 jersey, the real contenders would likely be those used last year, French-bound Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga. Injury has robbed us of too much of a look at Sopoaga (he returns this week), but looking at the three All Blacks first fives together outlines just what a yawning attacking chasm Barrett has created over the field. He’s gone from being an outstanding impact layer to an indispensable asset in a season.
It also highlights a couple of areas of his game that are well known as needing work on. His goal kicking percentage, at 61%, is the worst of all New Zealand first fives. In his defence, brother Jordie has been taking care of most of the kicks, so it’s a small sample size of 18 attempts to go from. A lack of match kicking practice likely won’t help him in the pressure cooker Lions atmosphere though, and is a potential All Blacks achilles heel while the games are tight. The Lions fans are unlikely to give Barrett the courtesy of peace and quiet to help his concentration either, or let him easily forget about any misses.
There aren’t too many other options for the All Blacks here. The only other realistic one would be to select McKenzie at full back (sending Ben Smith back to the wing), but McKenzie is far from a proven test performer who is also not currently his franchises preferred goal kicker. Israel Dagg fancies himself as a kicker but that confidence would definitely not be universally shared around the country.
Barrett’s discipline has also been unusually scrappy this season, but isn’t of great concern. He’s leading the first fives in penalties conceded per 80 minutes (0.5), and of course has seen yellow twice and red once in just 10 games. I’m sure All Blacks fans will gladly take the odd penalty concession here and there if Beaudy can continue to average 72.5 attacking metres, 3.5 defenders beaten, 1.5 clean breaks and 1.5 try assists throughout the Lions series. This could be the closest thing we have seen to Dan Carter from July 2 2005.
Rugby Boss Prediction for All Blacks vs Lions series:
Starting First Five: Um, yeah let’s give that Beauden fella a crack eh?!
Reserve First Five: The selectors won’t get cute here. There isn’t really an obvious youngster coming through and they won’t blood them here. Even in the face of his French departure I think they’ll lean Cruden unless Lima does something special in the next few weeks.
Sign up here to join in your own fantasy Super Rugby team and stay up to date with player news and stats.