For the country’s top first five-eighths, 2024 looms as a year of opportunities and questions.
Following the Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks’ depth chart in the No 10 jersey took a hit as incumbent pivot Richie Mo’unga left to take up a long-term deal in Japan.
With Beauden Barrett also accepting an offer in Japan, joining Toyota Verblitz on a short-term deal for this season, it posed a question as to just who might make up the All Blacks’ first five-eighths options in Scott Robertson’s first team.
Answers to those questions only became more unclear with the news that New Zealand Rugby was working with Barrett on a new contract that could potentially see him available for the All Blacks again next year.
Speaking to the Herald in his role as an F45 ambassador during Trials Week, World Rugby Hall of Famer and long-time All Blacks No 10 Dan Carter said Barrett’s experience would be an asset to the team as they transitioned into a new era.
“I think there’s enough stability in the team,” Carter said. “With the way that the likes of Jordie Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan, even D Mac [Damian McKenzie], the way that they’ve come on over the last couple of years and having those guys around will be important, but you can’t buy experience and that’s where Beauden is just so valuable having him in the squad.
“I was really impressed with the way that he played at the World Cup. His leadership, his calmness, really clear decision making – whatever decision he makes you’ll support, but knowing him and having worked with him, you know the value he adds to any team, so if he decides to come back and then sign here, then it’s a real asset to New Zealand Rugby.”
New Zealand Rugby general manager of professional rugby and performance Chris Lendrum confirmed last month the organisation was in conversation with 32-year-old Barrett around a potential multi-year contract, which would see him return to New Zealand in the second half of the year.
Barrett has been a fixture in the All Blacks since making his debut in 2012, having donned the black jersey more than 120 times and earning a Rugby World Cup medal of every colour. With Mo’unga now plying his trade offshore, McKenzie has the most test experience of the first five-eighths playing in New Zealand next year with 47 tests – though just five of those have been in the No 10 jersey.
Behind him, Stephen Perofeta (3), Brett Cameron (1) and Josh Ioane (1) are the only primary No 10s to have played for the All Blacks before.
Should Barrett not be available, or not do enough to earn his place back in the test squad should he re-sign, there will be plenty of opportunity for the next generation to stake their claim to a step up in competition.
It’s a situation Carter himself is familiar with, after playing his way into the All Blacks in 2003 when afforded opportunities at Super Rugby level as Andrew Mehrtens dealt with injuries.
“D Mac and Stephen Perofeta, they’re the obvious leaders at this initial stage. We don’t know what Beaudy’s planning to do, if he comes back that would be fantastic having someone with his experience around the team - providing he continues to play well over in Japan, obviously,” Carter said.
“But I think there’s a real opportunity, and we’ve seen it in the past that guys can just have magical Super Rugby seasons at a really young age and they get an opportunity. If you were talking to anyone in 2002 about who the future All Blacks could be the following year, my name wouldn’t even come into the conversation because no one really knew who I was.
“There’s going to be players in those squads that get an opportunity and have a chance to showcase to the likes of Scott Robinson and Leon MacDonald that they’re good enough to make the next step up to the All Blacks.”
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.