Beauden Barrett’s speed of thought encapsulates All Blacks’ brilliance

Outhalf has notched up 100 Tests for New Zealand but clearly still has plenty to offer

  Beauden Barrett runs in a try on his 100th cap for New Zealand during the emphatic victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Beauden Barrett runs in a try on his 100th cap for New Zealand during the emphatic victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

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In the immediate afterglow of his triumphant 100th Test for the All Blacks, Beauden Barrett was asked how his family back home in Taranaki had celebrated the occasion.

“Dad’s got a keg of Guinness, they’ve got a ham on, I think they’re having a lunch,” the 30-year-old reported. Right there, in a no-dramas nutshell, is the reason New Zealand remain the most unflappably consistent rugby nation on earth.

The other ominous post-game words murmured by the outstanding Barrett – “I’ve got plenty left in the tank” – should also be noted by every All Black opponent between now and the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The 54-16 win, their biggest score against Wales in Cardiff, on Saturday was by no means a one-man show but it underlined how good New Zealand remain at polishing shimmering individual talent for the collective benefit of all.

When Barrett first played Test rugby in 2012 – a record 60-0 win against Ireland so some things never change – he felt like a peripheral figure.

“I was a very raw young boy from Taranaki who was all-out attack. I had a few cameos off the bench here and there.”

Less than a decade later and his two intuitive interception tries against Wales summed up a maturing senior player who, despite being regarded by many as the second best outhalf in New Zealand behind Riche Mo’unga, has now scored more Test tries than Jonah Lomu and is still contributing hugely to his team’s cause.

Maybe there is a lesson there somewhere for England’s Owen Farrell, also poised to hit his 100th international appearance. The difference is that Barrett still has game-changing pace and it was instructive to hear the All Blacks coach Ian Foster explain why his interceptions were, in fact, not remotely fortunate.

“It’s not a fluke because he does it regularly,” Foster says. “Beauden’s got that freakish ability to defend two spaces because he knows he’s got the speed to make up for it. If you look at all his qualities, the ability to run fast and be decisive are probably his greatest.”

Which just happen to be the characteristics that frequently set New Zealand apart from the herd, particularly in the last quarters of games. Wales were only 28-16 down with 20 minutes to go following Johnny Williams’s try but then “fell off a cliff” according to their head coach, Wayne Pivac, as a four-try bombardment underlined the speed of thought and mind that sets the visitors apart, between World Cups at least.

If there were moments in the first half when the All Blacks pack could have been placed under more pressure had Wales not conceded a torrent of penalties and executed more surely at attacking lineouts, there is no other team who finish the job with the dynamic ruthlessness exhibited by the replacement Sevu Reece and Barrett.

Too good

Ardie Savea, Dalton Papalii and Will Jordan, whose 16th try in just 11 Tests was a solo chip-and-chase gem, also look like players capable of emulating Barrett and enjoying globally-hailed careers.

The All Blacks will certainly be too good for Italy this weekend and while Ireland and France may look to examine the visiting pack’s close-quarter strength and target David Havili in midfield, Foster was pleased with the way his side performed without the ball.

“I thought we were really disciplined, we put them under pressure and once we started to pick up a few turnovers and force a few weak kicks, we started to get the opportunities. Our defence was the unsung hero.”

The red-shirted elephant lurking outside the room, though, remains the fact this game was played outside the official Test “window” and that an already injury-hit Wales, consequently, could not pick their optimum side.

Pivac remains hopeful that Alun Wyn Jones’s latest shoulder problem is not too bad but South Africa, their opponents this Saturday – on the back of this bruising examination in which Ross Moriarty also departed prematurely – is not what many doctors would order.

Then again the Welsh Rugby Union’s coffers have been swelled by €4.75 million for fulfilling the fixture so that is all right, isn’t it? For all Barrett’s brilliance, roll on the day when this fixture, involving the defending Six Nations champions and the Rugby Championship winners, regains genuine competitive meaning. – Guardian

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