INTERVIEW: Josh Beaumont shedding 'son of Bill' tag

Alam Khan 2/09/2016
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Highly rated: Josh Beaumont.

Grainy old videos, iconic images and unfair jibes about nepotism have provided a constant reminder to Josh Beaumont of his dad Bill’s feats on a rugby pitch.

He was born 17 years after Beaumont Senior made his England debut, 12 after he captained his country to Grand Slam glory in 1980 and a decade after he retired.

While confessing rugby was ‘in his family’, Josh – the youngest of three boys – never envisaged following in his father’s footsteps.

“I didn’t think about following dad,” he says, reflecting on a career which never really took off until he played for Durham University while studying Geography in 2010.

“Both my brothers played rugby and it’s in our family. But I went to University with just the degree in mind and it went on from there. I wanted to do my own thing and was looking at other options while at University and then the rugby just took off and I thought ‘why not?’.”

Why not indeed. Having been a budding fly-half, he developed into a towering No. 8 blessed with pace and fine ball handling skills and suddenly Newcastle Falcons came calling before he signed with Sale Sharks in 2012.

He has not looked back and, having been part of England’s recent training camp with the 45-man provisional Elite Player Squad (EPS), he is tipped to emulate Bill with a senior spot.

“Slightly,” he reveals, when asked if has grown tired of the constant references to a revered figure who won 34 caps, captained the British Lions and is now chairman of World Rugby. “But you just get used to it. I’ve grown up with the ‘son of tag’ but I think it’s wearing off now and I’m making a name for myself. It’s now ‘father of’. It’s easier now than when I was younger.

“Lots of people used to say ‘you’re only here because of your dad’. But when you get to this level you are here for a reason past that. You can’t get away with just being a name out there on the pitch. I’ve seen the old videos of my dad, in black and white, but he stopped playing a long time before I was born so there’s no pressure or expectancy. The game has moved on a bit since then as well.

“Anyone would love to play for their country and captain their country, but I don’t ever look at my dad and think I have to surpass him. I will do my own thing and see where I can get to. I want to make my own name, my own achievements. It’s my time.

“I take on his advice, but he just says work hard and try to impress every time you get out on the pitch or training. The best advice I had is to have belief in my ability.

“At Fylde, Brian Ashton (the ex-England coach) gave me a free rein and said I’m going to let you go out and play and just do your stuff. I’m immensely proud to be involved in the camp and in the EPS, I’m sure my parents are as well, but they will just encourage me to push on.”

He is driven to fulfil his dream of an England place and will begin that bid on Friday as Sale begin the new English Premiership season with a trip to Falcons.

“That’s my goal, 100 per cent,” says a bullish Beaumont, who scored a try against the Barbarians last May for an England select side in a non-Test friendly. “It’s not about just getting one cap either, but to push on and get many more. You can take a step back and see what you’ve done, be pleased, but there’s a lot more still to get.

“I know I have to concentrate on my work at Sale though. I haven’t played for six months because of injury and have to find my form very quickly with Sale and then take that into any England set-up I go into.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of England, 10 games unbeaten, nine under Eddie, so it’s a hugely, hugely optimistic time. There’s a lot of competition for places, but we have seen that if you are playing well, Eddie is going to have a look at you and then if you impress in training then you might get that opportunity.”

Beaumont was first called up by Jones in January ahead of the Six Nations. But a dislocated shoulder ended his campaign early in March and he adds: “No one likes to be injured, it’s a depressing place to be.

“You get off the highs of being involved in the England camp and then you seem forgotten about really because you are not playing. So you have to make the most of the opportunity when you are playing and take nothing for granted.”

Beaumont will have more opportunities to impress Jones with Sale also drawn to face defending champions Saracens, star-studded Toulon and Scarlets in the Champions Cup which begins in October.

That could mean facing up to Sarries’ Billy Vunipola, currently in possession of the England No. 8 spot, and South African Duane Vermeulen, an imposing presence for the French outfit and one of the world’s best locks.

“It’s really good to test yourself against players like this,” says Beaumont.

“Billy’s a great player and played very well last season, really impressive, and ball-carrying wise he’s one of he best around.

“You have to look at these guys and learn off them, and just try to offer something else that they can’t do really. I take it as a challenge and thrive on it. I want to play against the best and you have to challenge yourself to show you can be at the same level.

“You want to play in these big games, in front of the big crowds and definitely it will inspire the team as well. There’s no point thinking what you can achieve as an individual. If the team gets out of the group and I don’t do too well, then it’s still happy days for me.”

Beaumont’s confidence has been boosted further with captaincy of the Sharks and a new three-year deal – a clear indication of how highly he is rated by the club.

“To captain a side at 24 is pretty special,” he says. “I’m not a big shouter, I try to do my leading on the pitch. I’ve captained successful teams for University before and it’s something I enjoy doing, doesn’t faze me or inhibit my game too much.

“We’ve got guys here I can learn from too, like Mike Phillips, who is a British Lion, and lads who are older and have had international caps.

“You have to look at other captains too, but also in other sports. Someone I look at is Roy Keane who captained Manchester United when they won the Treble. He was a guy who led from the front.

“I’m really excited about this season and what we can do at Sale. We have to build on last year when we were top six.”

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#360debate: Should Barrett be All Blacks’ starting fly-half?

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Barrett led the Hurricanes to their first Super Rugby title on Saturday.

Beauden Barrett was in imperious form on Saturday night, helping the Hurricanes to a 20-3 success over the Lions in the Super Rugby final at the Westpac Stadium.

But should the 25-year-old Wellington-based star hold down the fly-half berth for the reigning world champions, with the Rugby Championship coming very soon?

Sport360 duo James Piercy and Niall McCague debate.

James Piercy, Sport360’s Deputy Editor, says YES

As the Taranaki Daily concluded, the Super Rugby final was decided by virtue of the fact, “one team had Beauden Barrett, the other didn’t.”

Everyone knew the destiny of the trophy would hinge largely on who won the duel of the 10s between Barrett and Elton Jantjies of the Golden Lions, but they probably didn’t quite forsee just how dominant the Hurricanes star would be.

One outstanding display in your own backyard is not reason alone to suggest you should start in the most important position for the world champions, but it was the culmination of a season where Barrett has developed remarkably.

He’s always been a victim of his own ability; his rugby brain and skillset meaning he can play in every position across the backs and, in an age where rugby has swelled beyond a 15-man game, that saw him typecast as a perfect replacement.

But, at the age of 25, he has matured into a leader, whose game management has superseded his individual brilliance. Criticism of Barrett’s credibility as a truly world class 10 has often been levelled at his goalkicking but there’s been an notable improvement – 70.8 per cent compared to 64.1 per cent in 2015 – and he missed just one kick from nine in the semi-final against the Chiefs and Lions in the final. Aaron Cruden has always been the safe pair of hands, lending himself more as Dan Carter Mark II, than a leap into new territory.

But Barrett has outperformed his Waika to rival while also refining his game, and two statistics highlight this evolution: open play kicks per game – 8.6 in 2015 to 11.4 in 2016 and carries per game – down from 9.7 to 7.2. In short: he’s running the ball less and using the field more.

When comparing the two, Barrett’s 12.3 points per game this season to Cruden’s 3.1; his 47 metres gained per game to 31.8 and 24 passes per game against the Chief star’s 18.5, all stand out.

We already know what Cruden can do; Barrett’s improvement needs to be both rewarded and tested with him donning the No10 jersey against Australia in Sydney on August 20. It will go some way to seeing whether he truly can be Carter’s heir apparent.

Niall McCague, Sport360’s Online Journalist, says NO

Beauden Barrett is unquestionably growing into a highly-influential player – as demonstrated during the Hurricanes’ recent run to Super Rugby glory. But he is arguably a better 15 than 10 and despite his rich run of form on the domestic stage, he has failed to shine for New Zealand in big games.

With just nine of his 39 international appearances coming as a starter, Barrett has largely been consigned to cameos from the bench and has shown a lack of consistency for 50 minutes or more.

Out-half is the most important position in rugby and it is essential to have an experienced and trusted player on the field when the team is on the attack.

Barrett has improved his game management and goal-kicking vastly, but he is perhaps still a season off really being able to step into Carter’s shoes and show consistency for his country.

With Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith also hanging up their boots after the World Cup, Steve Hansen needs an experienced hand to steer the ship when his side step out against Australia in the opening game of the Rugby Championship on August 20.

Cruden – with 23 starts from 39 caps – should be the man tasked with orchestrating proceedings for this powerful squad, to guide them to a fourth Championship title in five years.

Though his goal-kicking has come under scrutiny, the 27-year-old has proven his wonderful footballing ability in big games before, like the 2011 World Cup semi-final and final, and more recently the first Test win over Wales. His commitment and skill have made him a 60 minute-plus player rather than one who is sprung from the bench to exert only brief influence in the closing stages.

It’s widely acknowledged that he has a larger level of support from his teammates than 25-year-old Barrett, such is his reliability with ball in hand and intelligence when making attacking decisions.

Barrett will inevitably get a chance to stake his claim for the jersey in the coming years but, for now at least, Cruden is the best man to lead the All Blacks.

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New Zealand 46-6 Wales, Australia 40-44 England, South Africa 19-13 Ireland

Sport360 staff 25/06/2016

NEW ZEALAND 46-6 WALES

New Zealand pounded Wales with pace and intensity and a masterful performance by Beauden Barrett to sweep the three-Test series with a 46-6 victory in Dunedin.

Barrett, in a rare promotion from his regular super-sub role to starting fly-half. commanded a relentless attacking game by the All Blacks as he seamlessly took over from the injured Aaron Cruden.

Barrett finished with a personal total of 26 points from two tries, five conversions and two penalties.

Ben Smith, George Moala, Dane Coles. Israel Dagg also scored for the All Blacks.

Wales were unable to cross the All Blacks line with their points courtesy of two Dan Biggar penalties.

AUSTRALIA 40-44 ENGLAND

England concluded a glorious season by completing a 3-0 series whitewash of Australia with a 44-40 victory at Allianz Stadium.

A thrilling third Test saw the lead repeatedly change hands and, once the final whistle blew on two well-matched teams, the try-count read 5-4 in the hosts’ favour, but it was kicking of Owen Farrell that ultimately proved the difference.

The Saracens playmaker amassed 24 points through six penalties and three conversions and missed just one of his 10 shots at goal, and his outstanding shift was recognised with the man of the match award.

Dan Cole, Mike Brown, Billy Vunipola and Jamie George crossed for the tourists and this was comfortably their best attacking display of the series, inflicting upon Australia their first 3-0 series defeat since 1971.

SOUTH AFRICA 19-13 IRELAND

South Africa clinched a Test series victory over Ireland in dramatic fashion in Port Elizabeth as they produced a brilliant defensive effort to deny the tourists at the death and hold on for a 19-13 win.

Despite dominating possession and territory, Ireland could not break the Springboks down as a result of some superb tackling and their own inaccuracy in crucial moments at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The result saw South Africa claim a 2-1 triumph in a hard-fought Test series, which saw Ireland edge the opener – their first ever win over the Springboks on home soil – before the hosts battled back.

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