Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Tawera bucks Tasman drift

Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is professional and has a real focus on his game, says Chiefs coach Dave Rennie. Picture / Getty Images
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow is professional and has a real focus on his game, says Chiefs coach Dave Rennie. Picture / Getty Images

Reading historical fiction and roller-blading are not standard hobbies for rugby players.

Those who have seen the Chiefs' Tawera Kerr-Barlow know he is not your run of the mill halfback either, so his leisure time activities will not surprise.

However franchise officials are happy he has ditched the roller-blading this year as he and the Chiefs prepare to battle the Sharks tonight for the Super rugby crown.

In his spare time, Kerr-Barlow reads historical fiction by Leanne Hearn, Wilbur Smith, Con Iggulden or John Marsden.

He developed a taste for that genre in his fifth form year when he read Tomorrow When the War Began.

"Now I read whenever I have a spare moment. I don't have so much time now but I value it so much more when I get the chance," he said.

"I like history and I'm fascinated by old battles like ancient Rome and Ghengis Khan."

Kerr-Barlow has upped his game to such an extent this season that he was called into the wider All Back training group.

That was another boost to Kerr-Barlow's sporting objectives when he left his native Australia as a teenager.

Usually the rugby drift goes the other way - Mike Harris being the most recent example of the Wallabies' search for rugby help.

But Kerr-Barlow, son of Kiwi parents Reimana and Gail, who were both chefs and shifted to Australia for work, was determined to be an All Black.

Mum played halfback for Australia but Kerr-Barlow did not hanker to wear yellow and chase the position held by such greats as Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan or Will Genia.

The Wallabies came calling, they tried to encourage him to play for a Super rugby franchise across the Ditch but the 21-year-old would not budge.

The All Blacks were the best team in the world so he wanted to play for them.

Being born in Melbourne and raised in Darwin was no barrier. When he was 13, he shot through to board at Hamilton Boys High and start that ambition.

"I always loved the All Blacks from as young as I can remember," Kerr-Barlow explained.

"A lot of my cousins are little Skippys but my brother and I have never gone for Australia, which is funny seeing as we grew up there.

"Darwin is a small city and I still call it home but there is little foundation for rugby there.

"For most sports you have to leave there to go down south or go to another country and I chose New Zealand.

"I just wanted to see if I could do well in the best rugby nation in the world, so that brought me over."

Why that sport?

His mother's influence was huge. Kerr-Barlow remembers watching her play from a very young age and trying to emulate her style.

This Chiefs' season he took his chance when former All Black halfback Brendon Leonard was injured.

He powered into his work so strongly he caught the attention of the national selectors and stayed ahead of Leonard even when the senior halfback recovered.

His goals developed as he played for Waikato, then the Chiefs.

"He's a bloody good kid," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.

"He is very physical defensively, so he is a real nuisance to opposing nines and we have seen him in recent times make life difficult for Andy Ellis and Aaron Smith.

"He is very diligent, professional and has a real focus on his game. He has always been a good distributor, his kicking game is getting better and he is very quick and strong so he is devastating with ball in hand.

"The quality of his decision-making has improved over recent months."

Kerr-Barlow had worked hardest on running the correct lines and getting second touches so his support play had become more valuable.

He had sharpened many areas of his play and worked on producing much more even performances.

He was methodical, analytical and had a strong understanding of his opponents and what to expect.

"I feel a lot more calm and steady on the paddock which is probably one of the main things," the halfback said.

"I'm sure that is something that comes with a little bit of experience.

"It's like last year when Fozzie [Ian Foster] chucked me on with a few minutes to go in games to feel what it was all about.

"I was freaking out a bit then but I can see what he was on about now. That helped me to work in pressure situations and I haven't got that down pat by any means, but it is coming."


Chiefs v Sharks
Waikato Stadium, 7.35 tonight

Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams,
Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, T. Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson
Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c)
Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo
Chiefs: Hika Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Lelia Masaga

Sharks: Patrick Lambie, Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, Frederic Michalak
Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel (c), Anton Bresler
Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, B. du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira
Sharks: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Steven Sykes, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Meyer Bosman, Riaan Viljoen

- NZ Herald

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