Beauden Barrett played his Blues debut over and over in his head before stepping onto the Eden Park pitch. Each time he envisioned his good friend Dane Coles getting in his face, giving him stick. Those premonitions came true as Barrett trumped his former Hurricanes teammates on Sunday. Coles won the one-off individual battle, but the Blues claimed the more important result.
Fifteen minutes into the Blues' eventual 30-20 victory over the Hurricanes, Coles sprinted 30 metres down the right-hand touchline and bumped off a low diving Barrett to score in the corner. In the ensuing celebrations, Barrett was dragged into the Hurricanes team huddle and Coles gave him a cheeky head rub for good measure which he laughed off.
"That just happened in slow motion," Barrett said after his subdued first match in almost eight months. "It was almost like it was meant to be, so fair play to him. He's pretty good in the wide channels and in space so a guy like him should be able to finish against someone like me."
Other than that incident, however, Barrett's expectations for a series of banter to flow from Coles, TJ Perenara and others did not emerge from a team he represented 125 times before shifting north.
"There was no lip to be fair. I was quite surprised. I guess at fullback you're a little bit further away which is probably a good thing."
Ticking off his return match in front of a 43,000 sellout crowd, Barrett expects more to come as he settles into his new team.
"It's been a long time coming. I said earlier in the week I'd played this game a million times in my head so it was good to get it out the way. Obviously there was that emotional hurdle to get over playing against all my mates as well as starting a new chapter in my career. It was never going to be a perfect game from me. I know I'm just going to keep getting better each day. I'm reasonably happy but it's a good start."
Barrett praised his forward pack, the team's defensive work in containing a dangerous Hurricanes side and their ability to win turnovers at the breakdown. The All Blacks playmaker said the Blues planned to kick more than usual to keep the ball in front of their forwards and dictate territory.
"Firstly it was fantastic to play in the afternoon. It was great for everyone. The product is pretty good, the ball isn't dewy so you see a more expansive game. Hopefully we can get more of it, especially on Sundays. It's great to see so many people come out and support us. I've got a lot of belief in this team. I know if we can get this region on our side we can do some good things here."
Blues coach Leon MacDonald opted to start Barrett at fullback against the Hurricanes. Otere Black, another former Hurricanes first-five, repaid MacDonald's faith in retaining him at 10 with another assured display in which he slotted 15 points.
Next Saturday the Blues travel to Hamilton to face the Chiefs, who lost their opening Super Rugby Aotearoa match against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Despite stating this week he views Barrett as a 10-15 it appears unlikely MacDonald will break up his developing Black-Barrett combination for the Chiefs clash.
"I'm really enjoying playing with Otes," Barrett said. "He's such a cool, calm, collected dude and we saw how good he is out there today. Nothing really fazes him too much. I do understand him a lot. We put it on our shoulders to play a smart game and drive us around the park."
The Blues have now won five matches in a row – amassing four on the bounce before the coronavirus shutdown – and claimed successive New Zealand derby victories for the first time since 2014. Expectations will only mount, but with MacDonald at the helm, this team seems to have a grounded nature about them.
"We're aware it's just a start for us. Yes, the previous competition helped with taking a bit of confidence in what we were doing but we knew this was a fresh new competition and we had to start again."