After 96 tests for the All Blacks, Beauden Barrett is still finding career firsts.
Should he be selected to run out against the Springboks in Townsville on Saturday night, it will be the first time he has fronted against a reigning world championship side, with Barrett's tenure in the national team coinciding with eight years of World Cup dominance.
Because the Springboks did not play in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this will be the first time since mid-2011 they have gone up against a reigning champion.
"It's been a while since we've played the Boks, and it's the first time for me – and everyone in the team actually – playing against the world champs," Barrett said.
The Springboks were the last team to hoist the Webb Ellis trophy before the All Blacks locked it away in 2011 and kept it in 2015, and only one player in the squad featured in that mid-2011 defeat to the Springboks prior to that year's World Cup. That was veteran lock Samuel Whitelock, who is not with the team for the Rugby Championship due to the birth of his third child as well as quarantine issues in Australia.
On Saturday, the teams will meet for the 100th time in the test arena bringing up a milestone in the historic rivalry. After 99 tests, the All Blacks lead the series 59-36 with four draws, with the Springboks having won just two of the past 16 meetings between the sides since their mid-2011 victory in Port Elizabeth.
Barrett said the milestone match was something that had to be appreciated by all those involved, but it wouldn't overshadow the primary objective.
"You have to embrace that challenge of what's coming and the significance of this test match – or any test match – but once you get on the field you ultimately want to play with freedom. As soon as you cross the line, you're not going to let the occasion get the most of you or the better of you. It's about enjoying your footy, remembering why you play the game and backing your instincts.
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"It's a rivalry that has a long tradition and very memorable games in it. For me personally whether it was playing or watching, there's that proud history between us two, so I can't wait to play in the 100th hopefully."