The debate around Beauden Barrett’s hold on the All Blacks’ fly-half shirt – and the challenges by Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo’unga – is undoubtedly a valid one, with McKenzie having torn the French defence to pieces in their last test and Mo’unga putting together an exceptional string of postseason performances in Super Rugby.
However, two important factors are rarely noted in discussion of Barrett’s performance: the overall decline in performance of the Hurricanes in Super Rugby (particularly in defence), and the clear improvement in the areas of the fly-half’s game which were weakest when he assumed the starting jersey in 2016.
Beauden Barrett’s emergence as New Zealand’s first choice 10 in 2016 came not because of the strengths of a conventional fly-half, but largely because of his ability as a pure open-field attacker:
— Nic Darveniza (@NicDarveniza) January 17, 2017
TJ Perenara’s second try in Durban is a good example of why Beauden Barrett could be most effective in attack at 15: pic.twitter.com/2z97aseFBr
— The Chase (@thechasesport) November 1, 2016
2. Barrett was given the opportunity to thrive as a pure open-field attacker in Super Rugby by a Hurricanes team that was built around a dominant defence and the creation of turnovers:
— The Chase (@thechasesport) February 24, 2017
At this time, there were significant issues with Barrett’s passing game in phase attack; he lacked some of the strengths of a conventional fly-half:
This has been a consistent feature of his play for the Hurricanes, both this season and last: pic.twitter.com/qAKm37hEqN
— The Chase (@thechasesport) May 17, 2017
While the strength of the Hurricanes – particularly in defence and the creation of turnovers – has changed relative to their Super Rugby opposition since 2016, Barrett, he has maintained his ability as a pure open-field attacker for the Hurricanes:
He has also maintained his high level of tactical kicking and in defence over this period:
Since 2016, Barrett has developed his passing game in phase attack significantly:
In the Super Rugby semi-final, Beauden Barrett displayed how his passing and ability to break the line in phase attack have improved since 2016.
The most marked difference in his pass technique is his tendency to keep his energy moving forward through the ball after release: pic.twitter.com/3TyLUGri5W
— The Chase (@thechasesport) August 15, 2018