Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: How three months made Beauden Barrett one of NZ's top earning players

If there is a sign of a quality player, it’s using adversity as the bedrock of success.
New Zealand All Blacks 1st-five Beauden Barrett scores against Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand All Blacks 1st-five Beauden Barrett scores against Australia. Photo / Brett Phibbs

By delaying his run with the same precision timing with which he hits the line and arcs past flailing defenders, Beauden Barrett has no doubt become one of the best paid players in the country.

He's clearly no mug or at least his agent isn't. Off contract at the end of this year, Barrett has been under pressure for months to make a longer term commitment. The offers have flooded in and as flattering as that's all been, he's only ever had one intention - to stay with the Hurricanes and New Zealand Rugby.

But by holding off for as long as he has, how much value did he add to his three-year contract which he signed this week? Presumably a significant amount because in the space of the last three months he has gone from being an interesting option to bring off the bench at test level to, arguably, the most influential player in world rugby.

He's answered every question anyone could ever have had about him. The two big ones were whether he had the game management to truly become the All Blacks starting No 10 and whether he had the composure, patience and fortitude to show that he could deliver in the biggest games.

If there was an element of doubt this time last year, there no longer is. Not even a hint of it - those two notions can be kicked for touch with the same booming accuracy that Barrett has dispatched hundreds of balls to the same place this year.

He's made just about every play a winner since April. His running game is always the part that catches everyone's eye, but against the Wallabies in Wellington he drilled a clearance 50 metres cross-field off his left boot.

He's never once appeared to have run when he should have kicked or kicked when he should have run and the fact that neither Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd nor All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had to lament about playing too much rugby in the wrong parts of the field is a silent endorsement of Barrett's tactical execution.

If there is an equally succinct and powerful way to demonstrate his mental strength and capacity to deliver under pressure - it is the current location of both the Super Rugby title and Bledisloe Cup.

Barrett was instrumental in delivering both, particularly the former when the Hurricanes mounted a nine-game unbeaten streak to finish. The last three of those were in decidedly awkward climactic conditions and Barrett came into his own.

The wind howled and the rain pelted down but Barrett's head was clear, his decision-making bold and execution faultless. At the corresponding stage of the season last year, he wasn't able to be as commanding as he wanted and if ever there is a sign of a quality player, it's when they use adversity as the bedrock of success.

The rise and rise of Barrett has been the headline act of 2016 and while anyone with half an interest in the game would have known he was gifted, how many really knew to just what extent?

The 2015 season finished with Daniel Carter, the man rightly dubbed as a once-in-a-generation player, kicking and dropping extraordinary goals and masterminding a World Cup victory.

Here we are now just 10 months later having to contemplate the real prospect that Barrett may be capable of setting the bar higher.

Barrett can't yet lay claim to being in the same goal-kicking league as Carter. If anything, goal kicking remains the one area of mediocrity in Barrett's game.

His success ratio of 60 per cent in the Rugby Championship sits well behind the 88 per cent Carter posted at the World Cup. But what Barrett concedes to Carter as a goal-kicker, he makes up for as a runner.

Even in his prime Carter didn't pose the same running threat. He wasn't as deadly quick as Barrett or as effective at dropping into the backfield and sparking something from deep.

"He's playing outstandingly," said his Hurricanes and All Blacks teammate Julian Savea. "His speed to beat defenders and the way he has been running, is unreal. Maybe I will get fast like that one day." Different players with different styles, but linked by their almost identical laconic temperaments, Barrett shares with Carter that sense of ease with all that life and test football can conjure.

They are wildly modest, determined to hide their light under the team bushel and masters at making their acts of brilliance sound as if they were cobbled together by nothing more than luck and the hard work of others.

Their bond is tightened by their respective reluctance to be in the spotlight. "You have got to accept it when you can," says Barrett of the greater adulation and recognition that is now his lot. "It is certainly better than when it is going the other way. It is not always like this. It is not too bad but I would prefer to slip under the radar."

Whatever happens next, Barrett can feel some level of security that he picked the right time to leverage his form. The NZ Rugby Union, flush with broadcast cash, will have thrown plenty of it at Barrett to persuade him to lock in for three years.

He will now sit alongside the likes of Brodie Retallick, Julian Savea and Ben Smith as among the best paid in the country and given how well he's playing, he looks cheap at the price.

Fickle wheel of fortune sends Cruden spinning

Aaron Cruden (left) and Beauden Barrett have been in a race for the No10 jersey since Daniel Carter left for France. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Aaron Cruden (left) and Beauden Barrett have been in a race for the No10 jersey since Daniel Carter left for France. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The All Blacks are so often governed by the most basic laws of physics. None more prevalent than there being an opposite and equal reaction to every action.

It's often sold differently - that one man's misfortune is another's opportunity.

Aaron Cruden may not particularly care for how it's packaged. All he knows is that he started the June series with a No 10 on his back, damaged his neck in the following game and in his absence Beauden Barrett became an international superstar.

It's a reminder that rugby at the highest level is a cruel business. Cruden, having waited patiently behind Daniel Carter for five years, earned that start in game one against Wales. He had plenty of runs on the board scored through the period 2010-14 and he was, certainly at that stage of the season, the form first-five in Super Rugby.

One injury changed it all and Cruden now finds himself in the place where many before him have been - waiting for the wheel of fortune to spin back his way.

He didn't suffer a prolonged collapse of form or loss of confidence. He didn't lose his way or tie himself in knots trying to nail his big chance. He actually played quite well in that opening game and then fate struck in the next one and Barrett pounced.

Cruden isn't suddenly out of favour because the coaches have lost faith. He's not yesterday's man although he may feel a little like the forgotten man while Barrett so rightly fields the accolades and wins the admiration of the rugby public.

It's a hard place for Cruden to be - waiting, hoping that his chance will come to remind the coaches why they had him as their number one only a few months ago.

He has been afforded 55 minutes of Rugby Championship action - which isn't bad for someone who started both tests on the bench, but that isn't really the path he had in mind back in June.

His patience is going to be tested. Right now, it feels like Barrett may never have a bad game: that he's going to ride the wave of form he's in for the rest of his career.

Cruden doesn't come with the same versatility as Barrett but the All Blacks are still, always, going to need genuine first-five cover in their 23. As Lima Sopoaga, the other No10 in the squad, doesn't play any other positions either, Cruden can feel some confidence for now, that he will at least be involved. He will just have to deliver what he can in training. He'll have to work as hard as he always does and when he gets time on the field, even if it's only 10 minutes, he has to do all the things the coaches ask him to do.

That's his only way back in at the moment: accepting that he and not Barrett is now the man who will start tests on the bench and be thrown in at whatever point to lift the tempo and intensity. If he can do that, make the same sort of impact that Barrett used to regularly make coming on later in the game, then he'll at least be giving himself a chance to change his future.The All Blacks are so often governed by the most basic laws of physics. None more prevalent than there being an opposite and equal reaction to every action.

- NZ Herald

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