Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: The year belongs to Beauden Barrett

All Blacks 1st-five Beauden Barrett on his way to a try against France during the test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
All Blacks 1st-five Beauden Barrett on his way to a try against France during the test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

There were All Blacks heroes across the team in 2016, but the year belonged to Beauden Barrett.

The defining memories of the year are surely one of the many moments of magic produced by Barrett to either kickstart or save the All Blacks. He became the new Daniel Carter, but with a flavour all of his own.

It was Carter's metronomic boot and supreme calm that defined 2015 and, in the end, won the All Blacks their second World Cup. Barrett owned the 2016 season as emphatically as Carter did 2015, the difference being his weaponry of choice was his running game.

Barrett sliced the Wallabies to shreds in Sydney, he coasted past Connor Murray in Dublin with his electric acceleration and in Paris, it was his timing and judgement that enabled him to pluck the unlikeliest of intercepts that turned the game on its head.

France were one pass from scoring and taking the lead, but instead, Barrett stile their ball and went the length of the field.

A fluke many will think. A high risk venture that went his way?

Perhaps not. He worked his position so cleverly to ensure that the pass beaten him, he still had his man covered.

"I was scrambling back and got my angle right - if you get that angle right then you can make that tackle if the pass beats you," he said. "It is one of those opportunist things.

You don't plan it. There is that relief going for it - it is not in our [defensive] system having a shooter but it is one of those things that if you get that angle right you can cover both things. I was stoked that one of the wings didn't track me down."

It was a huge moment in the context of the test and that strengthens this feeling that Barrett is just one those players who will always have a massive influence on tests. It's not luck, or at least if it is, then it is luck made by his own doing.

He opened up the opportunity to take the risk and he had the confidence to execute. Just as he had the skill, vision and execution to knock the ball perfectly across the field to Julian Savea fir the opening try. The rest of his kicking game wasn't great by any means, but the one he had to nail, he did and it brought the All Blacks another, crucial seven points.

It was fitting, perhaps, that Barrett should end the season where he came of his age, being watched by the man he succeeded in the All Blacks No 10 jersey. Carter was at Stade de France, looking as enthralled by Barrett as everyone else. If Carter had one wish on retirement it would have been to be quickly forgotten - for his successor to rise so quickly and dramatically as to erode, a little the legend of Carter. Or at least to ensure no one was pining for him a year after he left.

His wish has been granted. The All Blacks have found a player, who maybe not yet, but soon will be on current evidence, the equal of Carter.

Even in his prime, Carter didn't have the same pace and running ability as Barrett. He had the same confidence, the same ability to make his own luck and that magical ability to risk a little at exactly the right time.

Barrett has time, though and plenty of it. He's only 25 and for all that he has played this year like he's been in that No 10 jersey for an age, Chicago was his first start in the No 10 jersey against Ireland and Paris was his first against France.

It was Barrett's year all right and there will be a few more of those to come.

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