Barrett’s immediate impact
- 07 Sep 2017
The All Blacks’ Barrett quotient is now up to three after a sensational debut season from baby brother Jordie, writes MARC HINTON.
As the youngest of five rugby-playing brothers growing up in rural New Zealand, three of whom would go on to become All Blacks, Jordie Barrett has always had to be quick on his feet and able to take a hit. It has clearly served him well, as he has sashayed through his rookie Super Rugby campaign straight into his first season as a fully fledged international.
He is an outlier, in more ways than one. He stands 1.96m tall, which would be ho-hum if he was a second-row forward. But he’s a fullback who is also more than capable of playing in midfield and, at a pinch, flyhalf. He moves beautifully on his feet, has brilliant kicking skills, standout athleticism and a fabulous sense for the game. He is also remarkably poised for one so tender, in years and experience, and is having the sort of season in New Zealand rugby that has people asking two important questions: Where has he come from? And, more to the point, where is he going to get to? Barrett, who embodies the old sporting adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, has been the big mover in New Zealand rugby in 2017, and it just might be that he is not finished turning heads and taking names with his spectacular play.
The All Blacks will have a vacancy at fullback for most of the Rugby Championship, with vice-captain Ben Smith’s sabbatical kicking in after the second Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies in Dunedin on 26 August. Coach Steve Hansen will have a fistful of options, including Israel Dagg, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Damian McKenzie, but right now Barrett the younger appears the logical choice. He is that good.
To address those compelling questions hitherto: he has come from the dairy farmlands of rural Taranaki, where he is the youngest son of eight children of Kevin (aka ‘Smiley’) and Robyn Barrett. Dad was a hard-nosed provincial footy legend who played 167 matches for the Amber and Blacks, and for the Hurricanes in the first years of Super Rugby; and Mum was a talented athlete whom the boys all say was responsible for any athleticism they may claim to possess.
Clearly they did something right, for Jordie has joined older brothers Beauden (26), the 2016 World Rugby Player of the Year, and Scott (23) in the All Blacks, with the trio making history in the Test against Samoa prior to the Lions series when they became the first set of three siblings to play for this team in the same match.
And how far can he go? Well, given that he first toured with the All Blacks last year, as a 19-year-old designated ‘apprentice’ who had yet to log a minute of Super Rugby, and has played so incisively in his debut season with the Hurricanes, and then, intermittently, through June-July in the Test arena, it might pay to not place a ceiling on his potential.
The Barretts really are a New Zealand rugby phenomenon. We have had the Whitelocks, but even they would concede bragging rights to this lot. Beauden is the most established, having now accumulated over 50 Tests, a World Cup winner’s medal (as designated supersub), that ‘best player on the planet’ title after a stellar 2016 that included an inaugural Super Rugby title, and is now figuring out a slightly more problematic second season as Dan Carter’s successor.
Scott has Jordie’s height, but enough bulk to be a highly effective lock for the Crusaders and All Blacks.
He is just scratching the surface of this top-level rugby thing, but there is a lot to like about his toughness, skills and unyielding approach.
They’re also characters, to say the least. When Jordie joined his older two brothers in the All Blacks squad earlier this year, Beauden revealed that ‘Bub’, as he’d been dubbed previously, had earned a new nickname. ‘I call him ”Udon” now. Udon, like the skinny white noodle.’
Beaudy is clearly revelling in his familial status in the All Blacks. Later, during the Lions series, Hansen would reveal that Scott had been dubbed ‘Lloyd’ by his older brother. As in the character in the Dumb and Dumber movies. They never stop.
‘They’ve got their own gags, their own nicknames for each other and they have the ability to take the mickey out of each other,’ observed Hansen.
They’ve had plenty of practice. When they assembled together with the All Blacks for the first time, Beauden reckoned the last time they’d all gathered like this had been ‘running round the back lawn, me trying to be Christian Cullen, Jordie, sometimes it was Andrew Mehrtens – it varied each day ... Mum would call for dinner, and it would always go 10 minutes extra. It would most likely be him flying at you, then getting up crying, and he would come back that little bit harder the next time.’
Jordie doesn’t dare reciprocate the mickey-taking when it comes to his older brother. An inquisitive type probes for a nickname on Beauden. None is forthcoming.
‘There would be some repercussions if I called him something else ... I’ve just kept it Beauden or Beaudy,’ declares Jordie, straight-faced.
But Jordie doesn’t mind admitting he’s been inspired by his brother’s feats.
‘I was at school when he made his first [All Blacks] squad [in 2012]. It was inspiring seeing someone so close to you succeed. It gave some hope and a bit of drive to emulate what he did. We all looked up to him and Conrad [Smith], especially while at school.’
Initially it seemed as though Jordie would be eased through the Lions series, being part of the buildup, but watching the Tests from the stands. But that all changed for the third and deciding international, with Smith out injured and wings Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo marked absent too.
So Jordie started the biggest Test since the World Cup final at fullback, barely putting a foot wrong. He took the high balls under all sorts of pressure, soared sensationally to knock a crosskick from Beauden into the hands of Hurricanes teammate Ngani Laumape for a first-half try and very nearly uncorked a sensational winner in the waning minutes.
‘It gives me plenty of confidence,’ said Jordie of that monumental night that ended in a draw, and a tied series. ‘There was a bit of doubt. I was very nervous throughout the week. It was the first time in a while I’d been that nervous for a game. But once the whistle went, I was fine.’
That, of course, is an understatement. He was very, very good indeed in just his second Test. There are many, many more to come.
– This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine
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