Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Barrett on Kirwan's short-list

First-five would dramatically increase the Blues’ chances of winning competition.

Beauden Barrett starred for the Hurricanes during their 16-9 victory over the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images
Beauden Barrett starred for the Hurricanes during their 16-9 victory over the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images

The Blues are trying hard to lure All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett to lead their backline next year.

It is understood that John Kirwan, who was unsuccessful in signing Barrett last year, remains extremely keen to secure the services of the first-five, who starred for the Hurricanes during their 16-9 victory over the Crusaders in Wellington on Saturday.

If Barrett moves north, then Ihaia West, who has impressed during his short stint under Kirwan, will almost certainly move to the Hurricanes.

Barrett, who is third in the All Blacks' pecking order behind Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden, has the experience and talent to dramatically increase the Blues' chances of winning next year's competition.

His improvement over the past 12 months is such that he is closing the gap on Cruden at the All Blacks, but his value as an impact player means he has started only two of his 19 tests, and those were at fullback.

First-five has long been a problem position for the Blues, who have ruled out one last approach for Carter, who recently bought a house in Remuera but remains wedded to the Crusaders.

Their experiment with former Kiwis captain Benji Marshall this year ended in failure and a quick return to the NRL for the 28-year-old.

In Barrett they would have a player approaching the quality of Carlos Spencer, the last great first-five at the Blues who played his final game for the franchise in 2005.

It is understood that Barrett was close to moving to the Blues last year but Kirwan's interest in Marshall muddied the waters. This time the situation is a lot clearer - the 23-year-old would be guaranteed the No10 jersey, with former Crusader and Highlander Dan Bowden, whom the Blues have signed from Leicester, covering first and second-five.

Simon Hickey, who is out with an ankle injury sustained while playing for the New Zealand Under-20s, is in the frame as a back-up.

Watch: Rugby Highlights: Hurricanes 16 Crusaders 9

However, in the Hurricanes' favour is their appointment of coach Chris Boyd as Mark Hammett's replacement for next season. Barrett apparently has a good relationship with the NZ U-20s coach.

The continued interest in Barrett might seem harsh on 22-year-old Hawkes Bay player West, who joined the Blues as cover halfway through the season and has impressed with his running game and goalkicking in his team's two recent victories - the 40-14 thrashing of the Force in Perth on Saturday and the 37-24 victory over Barrett's Hurricanes at Eden Park before the June test break.

But in reality, West is in a good position. If Barrett decides to stay in Wellington, West will be favourite to assume the No10 jersey for the start of next season after quickly winning Kirwan's respect with recent performances.

If Barrett does join the Blues, West, who surprisingly missed out on a Super Rugby contract at the start of the year, will probably move to the Hurricanes where he is likely to be seen as a better candidate for the No10 role than current back-ups Marty Banks or James Marshall. For that reason, West is yet to sign a contract at the Blues.

West, like Kirwan, is playing a waiting game.

- APNZ

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