I have one hesitation in continuing to sprout Jordie Barrett’s skills as a second five-eighth.
Let’s face it – I’d rather Barrett in the second half than Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
At least Barrett wears mouth protection, which is something New Zealand Rugby (NZR) will have to deal with when Tuivasa-Sheck makes the team. I say do it because I guess – rightly or wrongly – that NZR didn’t sign him to just play franchise football.
As I’ve been told, players are effectively signing All Blacks contracts nowadays, rather than just NZR. That partly explains why TJ Perenarafor example, there was still a fixture in the squad, despite enough evidence to suggest he shouldn’t.
But I’m leaving.
My reservation about Barrett not playing defense is that some genius might decide that Stefano Perofeta should do instead.
Look, I’m sure Perofeta could run rings around insignificant test teams. But to me, he’s poor Damian McKenzie and we’ve seen how inefficient and error-prone McKenzie can be when it comes to calculating.
A book was published many years ago, called All Blacks Almost. It chronicled the long list of players who were stars in home rugby but, for one reason or another, never found their way into the country’s top team.
We left that model well and truly. Where once we could pick 25 All Blacks a season, only 16 or 17 of which would actually play, now we routinely award caps to 50 guys.
And then we wonder why NZR has to go to bed with a dress like Silver Lake? That’s what you would do if you had all those All Blacks salaries to pay.
The point is, it’s not enough for guys to be decent franchise players. It’s bad enough that we fans and media project All Blacks ’status on all sorts of relatively mediocre players, the national selectors then go ahead and pick the most of them.
And it’s natural, in those circumstances, that people believe that everyone on a winning team is a world fighter.
I won’t list any of them myself, but I’m sure most of you could burn the names of a dozen players who owed their choice to All Blacks for being part of outstanding franchise teams without actually being elite footballers themselves.
But go back to Barrett.
I really think his size, physical presence and playing ability make him a compelling choice to play 12. I think we’re mostly pedestrians in midfield and need the fist and vigor Barrett could provide.
And I say that in part because I’m not yet sold Rieko Ioane in the center.
A great ball carrier, sure, but if you want to play with a width like the All Blacks do, then it helps to have a center that could sometimes pass the ball. Yes, Ioane can download in the kit, but only after he first helped himself to the good ball.
I would still play Ioane on the wing and let him run to his heart. There are also less defensive decisions to make that would suit him as well.
Barrett would be a multiple threat in midfield, with his ability to carry, pass and kick. Too often opposition defenders are able to slip across because they know the danger is out there.
Barrett would keep more midfielders honest and, in turn, create more space for New Zealand’s back three.
But I doubt that will happen.
Barrett will be a defender, Perofeta will be selected (amid great fanfare) but rarely play, Tuivasa-Sheck and Ioane will be among those mixed and matched in midfield and Perenara will continue to accumulate caps from the bench.
I doubt that 2022 will be a year when voters try to make unpopular decisions. There is ground to make up for with the rugby public and NZR could even insist Julian Savea appears or two.
It doesn’t matter that fans really care about wins, rather than about charity stories.
It will be a fascinating season.
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