Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Why the Lions will be fearing Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes makes a break during the round eight Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.
Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes makes a break during the round eight Super Rugby match. Photo / Getty Images.

When the British Lions came 12 years ago they encountered what everyone thought was a once-in-a-generation first-five. Daniel Carter, just 23 back then, played the game of his life in the second test of the series, scoring 33 points to announce his credentials in the most stunning way.

The Lions will be back in New Zealand in June and, incredibly, they will encounter a player who might in fact pose more of a threat than Carter did.

Beauden Barrett is playing the sort of rugby that will have Lions coach Warren Gatland shaking his head - knowing that even the most structured and disciplined defensive system can't do much about the heady combination of searing pace, natural instincts and phenomenal skill which Barrett possesses.

There were times at Eden Park against the Blues when even Blues coach Tana Umaga knew there was no point in fretting about the damage Barrett was inflicting. There was no point sending messages to the frontline advising a defensive readjustment because it simply wouldn't make any difference.

All that could be done was to sit back and admire the performance while perhaps trying to project forward a couple of months to the first test between the All Blacks and Lions.

What the series might come down to is X-factor. The respective forward packs will no doubt hold their own. The kicking duel and aerial battle will most likely come out about even and the difference, as it so often is, will be the ability to create something out of nothing.

And no one in the world game can do that as well as Barrett. No one right now has that same trust in their skills and confidence to try the impossible.

No one has the same blistering pace that he does - not anyone playing in such a central decision-making capacity, anyway.

The Blues might toss and turn for a while yet about how they let the game slip in the last 10 minutes, but what were they to do when Barrett dinked the ball over their defensive line with the outside of his right boot, scorched through to collect it and then two phases later made the cleanout to ensure Mark Abbott scored?

What could they have done differently to have stopped Barrett firing through their defence in the first half to set up the first try for Ngani Laumape? The defenders were in the right place, Barrett was just too quick, too clever with his angle and the hole, that wasn't there, opened up.

Even Barrett's own try where he pounced on a dropped ball wasn't as lucky as it seemed. He made his own luck because he had the pace to get to the ball first.

"We talked about that we had to win those big moments and he single handedly does that," said Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd. "And he is regularly responsible for seven or 14 points for us each week."

The Lions, undoubtedly selecting from one of the best crop of players the Northern Hemisphere has harvested in ages, don't have anyone quite like Barrett in their midst.

They have Johnny Sexton, who has a great range of skills and a temperament to use them, but he doesn't pose the same danger as Barrett.

The Lions also have George Ford, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly, but none present that same challenge to defend or contain.

"I just remember him running around with his brothers when I was playing with his dad," said Umaga of Barrett.

"I knew his dad was very skilless so obviously it all came from his mum. He's just grown. It's everything; his ability to bring the ball back from deep, his vision, his confidence. Everyone has talked about the areas he's worked on with his defence and when you think about the ways to curb 10s like him, that's when you needed his dad who was very good at curbing 10s back in the day.

"That's part of the skill he's given his son because he is tough, relentless and always competing right till the end. That last try they got he was the one that cleaned out around the corner that opened the space. So 10s are different now."

- NZ Herald

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