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But, at the age of 25, he has matured into a leader, whose game management has superseded his individual brilliance.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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