Beauden Barrett stays modest but is ready to rip Ireland apart
Outhalf says Ireland have come a long way since his debut in 60-0 victory in 2012
New Zealand ’s Beauden Barrett during training on Tuesday at the National Sports Campus, Blanchardstown. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The warm interface with the team today is Beauden Barrett. Poster boy for outhalf excellence, Ronan O’Gara’s pick as influencer, World Player of the Year for the last two years, All Black.
He sits back in his chair, thrusts his legs forward and smiles the courteous, distant, serial killer smile. Barrett spent a year in Ireland when he was eight years old. He attended St Fiach’s National School in Ballinacree. Patient and modest there’s a genuine bond. But he’s ready to rip the heart out of Ireland.
The easily carried arrogance of the best team in the world; the sense of peerless ability; the winning assumptions.
Traits that have become part of the All Black DNA, their sweeping carnival of success conquering first the south and now the north.
“We respect them as a team,” says Barrett of Ireland. Duly noted.
It was against Ireland Barrett made his debut in 2012. A different string of players, O’Gara was the outhalf in Waikato, Hamilton. It ended 60-0. What can the Kiwi truthfully say about 60-0 that isn’t incendiary.
His memory wasn’t the score line. It was the shirt, its magical ability, its sense of empowerment.
“It was the highlight of my career, the first opportunity to wear the black jersey coming off the bench feeling like superman, making tackles I’d never made before,” he says.
“I couldn’t tackle back then so . . . it just gave me a wonderful sense of power and energy.”
Since the historical 60-0 beating there have been three Test matches played with aggregate scores of 74 points to the All Blacks and 71 to Ireland. None of those matches have been in New Zealand.
“We haven’t played Ireland at home since . I’ve played them twice up here. It’s always tough. And once in Chicago, ” he says. We let that one lie.
“That shows the strength of Ireland and how far they have come. So yeah, they have improved a lot.”
O’Gara was the player “I looked up to in my younger years”, he says. But Johnny Sexton is the player he will face. He knows Sexton, swapped jerseys with him after the match in Soldier Field.
They go head to head on Saturday and again when this year’s World Rugby Player of the Year is decided. Both are nominees. But head to heads are not how Barrett rolls. Welded to the collective he is All Black wired. One mind, 15 bodies, although Sexton, he agrees, is a string puller like he is. He can hammer down.
“Johnny, he’s not afraid of pulling the trigger. He can execute some pretty good plays,” says Barrett. “He likes to give the ball space. So I guess we are similar be it a cross-field kick or a big pass. Yeah, he just has a great set of skills.
“I don’t know the head coach too well, but I’ve played against [Andy] Farrell before and his defences,” he adds. “I know him personally as well as [Greg] Feek. So it just shows in their game.
“You’ve seen it come on from strength to strength in recent years. What I see is a dominant forward pack, a well-organised side – they get the small details right in their game. They’re very structured and they’ve got a good skillset to run ball in hand.”
Deliberate or not, the courtesies to Ireland of a “strong” pack and “good” skills seems as much to damn as praise. A willing alliance of patterned players capable of shaping a game towards a narrow bandwidth of strengths.
Limitations transformed into areas of domination by clever husbandry or as attack coach Ian Foster said “a team that is going to work hard on trying to suffocate us with possession”,
The words chosen will not rile the Irish players. Nor will they excite them.
Rule number one of the All Black play book is not to hand power to the opposition by insulting them or suggesting there is any area where they may be better.
All the more so when New Zealand were a marginal decision away from being beaten by England last week and England a marginal decision away from losing to South Africa the week before.
“We’re in between two big games. So we have to get back on the wave and build back up again for Saturday,” explains the outhalf.
“If we get too excited . . . we don’t want to play the game today or tomorrow. Yes, it’s very exciting but you’ll see most of that later in the week.
“When you do lose in an All Black jersey it’s never nice. We can draw from those experiences [in Chicago]. Just a small reminder of how we felt in that changing room.”
Tuesday Barrett is chilled. Wednesday is golf. Saturday though. Saturday he becomes superman.