Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Beauden Barrett - time to go Blue or go home

Super sub can show coaches he’s willing to take risk to earn top spot.

Decision time is looming for Beauden Barrett. He's off contract this year and has a tough choice to make. He is looking at three options: the first, and most likely, is to stay with the Hurricanes; the second is to sign with the Blues and the third to go offshore.

Despite the obvious value he would command overseas, the latter is not believed to be a serious possibility. At 24, with 36 test caps and such creative skills, Barrett would arguably be the New Zealander that European clubs would pay the most for.

But what he wants is to become the All Blacks' long-term, starting first-five. He wants that No 10 shirt and to be the man in whom the nation trusts with the All Blacks' tactical offering.

It's proving an elusive nut for him to crack - he's in his fifth year of professional rugby and arguably no closer to achieving his goal than he was when he first stunned audiences with his natural talents in 2012.

Barrett has been a glorious addition to the test scene. He's become a critical part of the All Blacks' attacking weaponry, but not in the capacity that he craves.

As impressive as his skills are, the All Blacks haven't been able to find a permanent home for him. He hasn't convinced the men he needs to that his tactical reading and game management are test class. Or rather, he hasn't done enough to suggest they are better than either Aaron Cruden's or Lima Sopoaga's.

When the opportunity to play at No 10 did open up in 2014, when Daniel Carter was injured and Cruden missed the flight to Argentina, Barrett didn't quite take it. He had four consecutive starts and on balance he was more good than he was bad, but there were specific areas of his game that wobbled. He confirmed his quality as a runner, but some of his kicking was loose - particularly his goal-kicking.

The All Blacks were hoping for him to take charge, put the ball in the right places and make the right choices. He did at times, but not with the consistency or authority they wanted.

Which is why the All Blacks coaches like Barrett on the bench, where they more commonly inject him at fullback as a secondary rather than primary decision-maker. Barrett has been superb in that bench role - frequently influencing tests by trusting his instincts and backing himself to beat defenders and supplement the All Blacks' kicking artillery.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said last year that while Barrett would no doubt prefer to be starting, there weren't many players in New Zealand who would feel they were getting a raw deal by constantly being part of a test match 23.

But Barrett has been the All Blacks' top bench pick for three years now and on the evidence of Super Rugby this year, that's not likely to change. Certainly for the June series against Wales, it's hard to see the selectors not going with Cruden and arguably Sopoaga would be their next choice.

The question now for Barrett is how does he break the pattern? How does he persuade the All Blacks coaches to stop seeing him as a brilliant bench option and instead pick him as their preferred No 10?

Throwing his lot in with the Blues would, if nothing else, be a definitive statement of intent. If he signed with the Blues - who have tried twice before to lure him north, the last time with a colossal offer - he would be marketed as the club's saviour. He'd be the first superstar No 10 at the club since Carlos Spencer left in 2005 and be it real or perceived, he'd be under constant public pressure to transform the Blues into champions on the strength of his tactical control and game management.

If he shifted it would be a clear message to the selectors that he's willing to risk plenty to try to become the player they need him to be.

Yet he's understood to be leaning more heavily towards staying with the Hurricanes and trusting that patience and perseverance will be his tickets to success. He's only 24 and already he's in the All Blacks leadership group. If he hangs in with the Hurricanes, keeps learning and developing, then he's backing that he can, in time, leapfrog Cruden.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 20 Jan 2017 05:07:08 Processing Time: 563ms