Beauden Barrett may do to the Lions what Dan Carter did 12 years ago, writes JOHN PLUMTREE.
In 2005, All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter was at the top of his game against the British & Irish Lions, and that will be the case for Beauden going into the 2017 series.
Beauden has enjoyed a meteoric rise since being given the opportunity to start for the All Blacks against Wales in June last year. All great sportsmen have unbelievable confidence and that’s where Beauden is at the moment.
I think he is a better player than Carter, because he’s a better athlete. Carter was a wonderful flyhalf for New Zealand and will go down as one of the greats, but Beauden’s got many years left in the game and it’s scary to think just how good he could become.
People will question Beauden’s goal-kicking, which isn’t as accurate as Carter’s, and it will be interesting to see whether he is the All Blacks’ main kicker during the Lions series.
That could depend on whether they select his younger brother, Jordie, at fullback. Jordie was the Hurricanes’ goal-kicker in Super Rugby this season when Beauden had a core injury. I haven’t spoken to him about it, but Beauden may enjoy not having the pressure of kicking for goal, and just being able to focus on his general game.
However, the All Blacks selectors believe he can do the job, if required, and I know he does too.
You also have to remember that when you score a lot of tries, like the All Blacks do, you get a lot of conversions. And many of their tries are scored in the corners, which is a tough place from which to kick.
Beauden works hard on all aspects of his game. I focus on the Hurricanes’ defence, and we work on things like his tackle technique and line speed. We have structures in our game that he relies upon and give him options. It’s very important that players communicate with Beauden, particularly from outside in, so he knows what’s on. We need to ensure that when he gets the ball he has an option to pass it short or out the back, or kick across the field, like those ‘kick-passes’ you see him doing. He might also decide to run the ball himself. He’s getting better at reading the cues from what the defence is doing, but relies on his teammates, which is what team sport is all about. For Beauden to be really good at what he does, we as a team need to be really good for him too.
Beauden is likely to come up against Johnny Sexton, who I worked with at Ireland. Johnny is similar to Beauden in that he likes to attack the advantage line, enjoys the physical contest, and has good game management. The one thing he doesn’t have is Beauden’s speed. Johnny won’t be intimidated by the prospect of playing against the All Blacks, and that will help the Lions’ psyche.
There’s been a lot of talk about the All Blacks winning the series 3-0, as they did in 2005, and that may prove to be the case. But neutrals will be hoping it’s 1-1 going into the third Test, as that would make for an exciting series.
This is going to be a very tough tour for the Lions. They play the five Kiwi Super Rugby franchises, the Maori and then three Tests against the All Blacks in the space of a month.
The Lions will have limited preparation time and their players are at the end of a long European season.
There are plenty of reasons they won’t succeed, but they do have Warren Gatland, who is a very smart coach. He has coached in New Zealand and against the All Blacks.
And he coached the Lions to a series win in Australia four years ago.
But the Lions won’t win by kicking the ball away or through their forwards. To beat the All Blacks you have to score four or five tries, because they are more than capable of scoring five or six themselves.
There’s been a bit of talk that the All Blacks could be outmuscled by the Lions, but I don’t think that will happen. The All Blacks have had lots of physical battles with the Springboks over the years, and have never been beaten up. If you don’t get beaten up by the Boks, you won’t get beaten up by anyone.
– This column first appeared in the June 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine