Beauden Barrett is back with the All Blacks, but is taking extra precautions, reports Liam Napier ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup test.
Beauden Barrett returns to the All Blacks backfield this weekend for his first test since last year's World Cup but his troublesome Achilles will need regular load management to avoid more time on the sidelines.
Barrett pulled out two days before last week's drawn Bledisloe in Wellington after his Achilles flared up, and it since emerged he has been managing the issue for the best part of 18 months.
"The Achilles needs to be managed," Barrett said after being named to start at fullback against the Wallabies at Eden Park on Sunday. "It needs time on the feet. A break won't heal it so it's about managing my load in training weeks so there's no spikes. We've done that well this week.
"I had it at the start of the World Cup and by the end of the World Cup it felt great so it's about having a consistent plan under one medical team and trusting that plan. I'm fully confident they're going to get me to where I need to be in a number of weeks.
"It's been a while since I've been able to do a speed session as such but I'm feeling a lot better about my position physically and playing this weekend. It has been a funny old year and it feels like two years since I played a test for the All Blacks. I'm clearly excited about that – afternoon footy at Eden Park, it's hard to beat."
Barrett watched on as he ran the kicking tee to brother Jordie last week, noting the direct approach from the Wallabies pack, the threat posed by halfback Nic White and the intent to use their wingers in space.
He also gave an insight into the All Blacks shunning the drop goal in the frantic final stages in favour of chasing the match-winning try.
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"I guess it is a mindset thing. We're always looking for the five-pointer over the drop goal but as a game awareness thing we need to be aware of that. Naturally you're waiting for that arm to go out and roll the dice with either an attacking play or a drop kick with the penalty advantage, but until that point we're thinking of playing for a penalty or a try.
"I was liking what we were doing. It's an easy fix to slip back there and do it. Richie [Mo'unga] was thinking of doing that. At the end of the day we've got to pull the trigger. I don't blame anyone for what we did, it was just the execution."
Barrett will have one new supporter in the crowd this weekend after the arrival of his first daughter, Billie, last month. Father duties have pegged back his second love of golf to four games in the past 11 weeks, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I'm loving fatherhood - it's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I've been managing time at home and the hotel, getting that balance right is important because I certainly get a kick out of going home and seeing little Billie."
All Blacks coach Ian Foster welcomed Barrett's return after a match in which Mo'unga struggled to stamp his authority. This will be the first time in 2020 the much-debated dual playmaker partnership adopted by the All Blacks last year is put to the test.
"He's a very experienced player, he knows our game well, he's excited about playing, he brings a lot of direction and confidence from the back and we know his playmaking ability when he steps into the front line," Foster said. "It's his first game in a black jersey for a while now so it's allowing him a chance to settle in from 15 and hopefully grow his influence as the game unfolds."