All Blacks coach Hansen heaps the pressure on 20-year-old Barrett ahead of series decider against the Lions

Steve Hansen is unconcerned about throwing Jordie Barrett in for the crucial deciding Test against the Lions.

Alex Broun
by Alex Broun
7th July 2017

article:7th July 2017

Jordie Barrett.
Jordie Barrett.

Thirteen months ago Jordie Barrett found himself on a wet Tuesday afternoon in East Manchester facing up to a rampant Irish pack.

The then 19-year-old was a part of an Under-20 team that fell to a surprise 33-24 loss to Ireland, becoming the first New Zealand age group team in history to lose to an Irish team.

The kid from New Plymouth had a mixed day, scoring the first try but landing just two kicks at goals from five attempts.

One year and 28 days later the now 20-year-old faces a very different assignment – starting at full- back for the All Blacks in the third and deciding Test of a dramatic Lions series.

It’s a big call by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.

It’s the biggest match in rugby union since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final and the biggest in New Zealand since the 2011 RWC final. And that’s not my description.

All Black players, not known for their over-statements, have openly been talking this week about this game being as big as a RWC decider. A fair bit of pressure then …

And in to that high-pressure environment, with everything on the line, the coach throws the youngest of four Barrett brothers.

It’s not to say Jordie, whose pet hate is being called Jordan, may not rise to the challenge – perform out of his skin – and the All Blacks record yet another famous victory. But the odds are against such a scenario playing out.

You have to ask the question, is it fair of Hansen, a usually astute man manager, to put such extraordinary pressure on a young man playing just his second match for the All Blacks and making his run on Test debut?

Jordie only made his provincial debut for Canterbury in August last year, before that he was playing club rugby as he weighed up choosing between a career in rugby or cricket, a sport where he also excelled as a fast bowler.

He made his Super Rugby debut just a few months ago, so Hansen is expecting a lot of a player in his second year of professional rugby, who is also playing out of position.

On the Hurricanes website Barrett is listed at the position he played for the NZ Under 20 team last year – inside centre. In the Mitre 10 Cup final last year he played at outside centre. At the start of the season he was only the second choice Hurricanes full-back behind Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has not been selected.

But now he must fill arguably the most important position in arguably the most important Test in years.

And be sure of one thing – the Lions will keep Barrett busy. Every chance he gets Conor Murray will be booting the ball high into Auckland night sky and the Lions back three sprinting through to put the pressure on.

We have already seen in this series just how important box-kicks have been as an attacking weapon and the Lions will like their chances of getting some great opportunities from the youngest of the Barrett boys.

Physically Jordie is up for it. At 1.96m and 96kgs he is almost 10 cms taller and five kgs heavier than his more famous brother, Beauden.

But in these big matches it’s all about experience and that is something Jordie does not have.

In fact the selection smacks of desperation and shows a surprising lack of depth in the All Blacks ranks. After Ben Smith was injured, Hansen gave the No15 jersey to Israel Dagg who after a less than impressive second Test has been shuffled to the wing.

“He’s very good in the air and he’s also a good defender,” Hansen assures of Barrett. “We have worked hard on his positioning and he is a quality player.”

As for Jordie himself he is trying to appear calm. “Whatever comes my way, comes my way,” he said enigmatically. “It is just about controlling it.”

But how much of this high pressure Test will he be able to control? The Lions’ own 20-year-old boy wonder Maro Itoje found himself over-awed in the second Test last Saturday, and he has two Six Nations campaigns and a European Cup victory already under his belt.

If Barrett lives up to Hansen’s faith, a new All Blacks legend is born. But if he doesn’t, he may find himself on the sidelines very early and with an ignominious loss blemishing a promising young career.



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