Ronan O’Gara: Beauden Barrett holds the key in All Black Test
Former Ireland outhalf believes playing field between sides has never been so level
All Blacks’ Beauden Barrett reacts during the match against the Springboks at Westpac Stadium on September 15th, 2018 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photograph: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
The dream scenario. It’s November 2nd, 2019 and New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett is tanking again. Richie Mo’unga kicks his heels as hubris cements inside the All Blacks psyche. Ghosts of Carter and McCaw witness the dissolving World Cup three-in-a-row by some Johnny Sexton thievery on a delirious Yokohama night.
Such flights of fancy are based on reality. As recently as September 18th Barrett yipped off the kicking tee, landing two from six, as the Springboks swallowed six tries in Wellington yet prevailed over the All Blacks because Handre Pollard posted five from six goals for South Africa.
Simple arithmetic solves this problem but the lesson may never be learned. Most damning of all, New Zealand lost a Test match they trailed by two points because Barrett and Damian McKenzie – both wonderfully gifted outhalves – never for a second contemplated the notion of sliding into the pocket.
“Bizarre, yeah,” says Canterbury Crusaders backs coach Ronan O’Gara. “I don’t think Beauden Barrett has kicked a drop goal for . . . ”
Logic presumes that the All Blacks will not be similarly exposed any time soon. McKenzie was dropped for the return fixture in Pretoria as Mo’unga arrived to shift Barrett to fullback and kick the match-winning touchline conversation.
Unbeatable once again.
“No,” says O’Gara, “because of the confidence levels of Beauden Barrett. I reckon if he’s in that situation again he goes to score a five pointer. Probably his coaches won’t want that.”
Steve Hansen – a bull by the horns media manipulator if ever there was one – said as much in the days after Barrett and McKenzie went for broke against South Africa. The ball spilled from the latter’s grasp.
“[Barrett] has that acceleration to ridicule defences but there was probably seven occasions in that three-minute period when they could have attempted a drop goal.”
“[The drop goal] would be in Mo’unga’s repertoire,” said O’Gara of the Crusaders outhalf. “Don’t know about McKenzie. I would say if that situation arose for Richie he would take it.”
And if he didn’t the Cork mentor wouldn’t be long coaching it into his arsenal because history shows that New Zealand, somewhere along the line, will need a precious three pointer to retain the William Webb Ellis trophy. Or not. Maybe Barrett’s stunning pace and constantly evolving distribution skills will tear every other nation asunder.
“To give yourself an opportunity you try to take away his time and space. Close him down. His inside space, the space on him and his outside space.
“When the game becomes broken Barrett is just so deadly, that acceleration when he scored in the Aviva [in 2016]. Nobody else can do that sort of outside break on Conor Murray.
“Keep them within one score and it is game on but if they get 10 points out they just play from anywhere.”
Still, O’Gara agrees, that the playing field between Ireland and New Zealand has never seemed so level.
“Yep. Turn that on its head. Ireland have beaten them once. In the States. It’s not talking us down but having been down there you appreciate that for every team that plays them it is a cup final. For every team it’s the biggest week of their year so their preparation is very similar in that they are not relying on emotions. They put a lot of work into their detail and preparation.
“You could see South Africa were at the right pitch, and they caught them, but I don’t think they can get to that every week. They should have caught them twice. It’s an interesting time for teams [facing the All Blacks] but you know New Zealand, you know they will hit a seven every time, but under Schmidt Ireland have also hit that every time.”
Conor Murray ready for New Zealand?
Conor Murray and news cycles will keep tumbling until Joe Schmidt announces the Ireland squad to face New Zealand on Thursday, November 15th at 1pm.
Confirmation on the scrumhalf’s availability should leak before then. Ireland assistant coach Simon Easterby confirmed Tuesday that Murray has linked up with the primary national camp in Carton House and is on the verge of taking full contact on his troublesome neck.
“I can’t see how his first game back – well, maybe – will be the All Blacks game,” began Ronan O’Gara before firmly sitting on the fence. “In his own head I would say he’d probably like two games before playing them but they have their own rules. He’s been out a long time.
“I can’t see how he would play but I met him at the Munster dinner in London and I got the impression from him that he was days more than weeks away.”
O’Gara added that if Murray resumes full contact on Monday it’s “easily doable” to be ready to play New Zealand.
“I don’t think the opposition comes into it really. Obviously if you are playing the USA the result isn’t in question but you can’t think like that. He’s got to decide for himself. You could also get some big Polynesian playing for the States who could cut him in two. He’ll have that obviously against New Zealand but he’s ready for everything from then on.”
*Ronan O’Gara was speaking at a promotional event for the Guinness Series 2018