Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Brilliance of Beauden Barrett suggests he may eventually be even better than Dan Carter

All Blacks captain Kieran Read with Beauden Barrett. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks captain Kieran Read with Beauden Barrett. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Dan Carter is still the best All Blacks first five-eighths I have seen.

Throughout his extended peak, he covered every base in that role from his reading of play, consistent defence, adept running and a remarkable array of kicking skills topped by his goalkicking.

Carter was the full package and, while that was blunted in recent seasons as injury bit into his impact, he still had the ability to pull out strong games when it mattered.

Beauden Barrett has skipped into that void with a series of electric performances and, in some ways, has pushed ahead of his famous predecessor.

Pace is Barrett's greatest weapon and a temperament which seems to hover so far below boiling point that you wonder if he's in the zone. Wales, Australia and Argentina know he is after Barrett's last four starts.

He's averaged a tick over 17 points in each of those tests, collecting 69 points including four tries. Goalkicking is an area to tidy up and, while Barrett had a solid 71 per cent success rate in those games, he still had an erratic tendency to miss some shots a top kicker should convert.

A bit like the All Blacks, it gives the coaches and Barrett something to work on. Otherwise, there were not many glitches about his game which left all those rivals asking where the hell he came from. It's no mystery.

He has been around the All Blacks camp since 2012, learning from Carter, then Aaron Cruden, as he was asked to fill a utility role from the bench.

Barrett had played 36 tests after the World Cup but was still battling to be the starting five-eighths. This year's Super Rugby campaign was critical in his push to be in the mix for a test start. He had to show the All Blacks selectors how he had lifted his play to suit a variety of games and rivals.

There was extra heat from Lima Sopoaga, whose goalkicking is stronger than either Barrett or Cruden, while the precocious talents of Damian McKenzie were bubbling to the surface.

Barrett stayed in the first-five fight and was instrumental in the Hurricanes' march to their first Super Rugby crown and although, initially, he could not crack the All Blacks job, he got his break when Cruden was hurt.

Now it's almost like Aaron Who? Which is a tough appraisal on a very talented player who has been parked on the bench and may be shunted further back in the queue if his groin strain does not recover for the trip to Argentina and South Africa.

Competition among these All Blacks is so strong it can take only one hiccup for there to be changes. Ryan Crotty is a classic example.

He got his chance when Charlie Ngatai was concussed, George Moala was damaged and Sonny Bill Williams was in Olympic mode and has been superb. He's better than solid. He's reliable and organised and a nice blend in a backline of explosive charges.

Barrett is one of those and someone who could challenge Carter's deeds if he stays fit and his performance graph keeps climbing.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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