COMMENT

That Beauden Barrett is even considering playing against the Crusaders on Saturday despite being back training for only two days highlights just how hard it is for all parties – Barrett, Hurricanes coach John Plumtree and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen – to manage player welfare and expectations.

In Barrett's contract is a clause which allows him to miss the first two rounds of this year's Super Rugby competition, and given it is World Cup year most would have assumed he would stick with that, especially after a recent wedding and overseas honeymoon which will have left him short of conditioning.

Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Codie Taylor will not be available for the Crusaders for the highly-anticipated derby in Christchurch due to their own rest clauses. But Barrett, who watched from afar as his side clung on against the Waratahs in Sydney in round one, has indicated he wants to play, an attitude which could please Plumtree and horrify Hansen in equal measure.

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"I'm not sure if I'm playing this week – we're still going through that," Barrett told Radio Sport's D'Arcy Waldegrave. "I returned to training on Monday so I'm still pretty fresh. It has been a good time off."

If Barrett is a surprise inclusion in the team when it is announced on Thursday – and a bench role seems the most likely give his lack of match fitness – he could negotiate another game off later in the season. And while his enthusiasm can't be faulted, it shows the challenges the All Blacks coaches face in terms of player welfare seven months before the start of the World Cup in Japan.

Beauden Barrett. Photo / Photosport
Beauden Barrett. Photo / Photosport

Making it worse, potentially, is the fact that it's a derby game against the defending champions. New Zealand derbies are notable worldwide for their extra intensity and entertainment but the flipside of that is the increased chance of collateral damage.

In the first match between the Hurricanes and Crusaders last season, Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty were victims of concussion within the first quarter of the home side's victory in Wellington and were unable to attend an All Black "foundation day" days later in Christchurch which was designed to prepare the squad for the upcoming June series against France.

Hansen won't need any reminding of that. And when you add in the high minutes many of the top All Blacks played in round one, Super Rugby will have got off to a stressful start for the national coach, who is determined to deliver another World Cup triumph in his final year in charge.

Barrett said he was physically and mentally refreshed after his time away and had trained in an attempt to retain his fitness. "I did what I could – [the break] was good for balance," he said. "Obviously the seasons are getting long and I needed to refresh. I had to maintain and keep fit over that period."

Such is his importance to the All Blacks as their top No10 and tactical driver on and off the pitch, Barrett remaining fresh for as long as possible is looming as a high priority.