Beauden Barrett could be facing a spell on the All Blacks bench after his Japanese sabbatical, according to Sir John Kirwan.
The All Blacks playmaker, who is currently playing with the Suntory Sungoliath in Japan's Top League, has started to hit top form once again, most recently scoring a hat-trick in just 18 minutes over the weekend.
Barrett, who was already coming off two match-winning moments in back-to-back weeks for Suntory, came off the bench against the Shining Arcs to score three times in a dominant 94-31 victory.
His first try – a sensational 60-metre solo effort where he used his pace and power to weave past several Arcs defenders – was particularly impressive.
However, All Blacks great Kirwan believes Barrett's spectacular form won't be enough to earn him a spot in Ian Foster's starting 15 when he returns to New Zealand.
"I'm just saying that he's going to have to get used to that jersey: 22," Kirwan said on Sky Sport's Breakdown, suggesting Beauden's younger brother Jordie should be starting at fullback for the All Blacks.
Jordie Barrett has been in hot form in Super Rugby Aotearoa this year for the Hurricanes, continuing his progression from inconsistent rising star to one of the best players in the competition over the last couple of seasons.
"He's playing good isn't he, Jordie. He's really taken command, he's owning that 15 jersey," Breakdown co-host Mils Muliaina added to Kirwan's comments. "But to go back to what JK was mentioning, I think the intensity is probably what Beaudy is not getting at the moment.
"Jordie at the moment, he's getting that, he's putting in the mileage. I love the leadership role that he's taken on himself. That's really starting to come out of him."
Meanwhile, the All Blacks first-five position in recent years has been secured by Crusaders No 10 Richie Mo'unga, who has once again been influential in the role for the four-time Super Rugby champions this season.
Kirwan believes it means Beauden Barrett could be left without a spot in the All Blacks' starting lineup, adding that he'll need to adjust back to the intensity of New Zealand rugby after his sabbatical.
"I don't think that's a big debate," Kirwan said about the intensity of Super Rugby Aotearoa compared to the Top League. "There's no way the All Blacks selectors would risk them coming back without knowing the intensity of the Japanese league.
"Right now if you look at that, you think, who was tackling out there? I've loved the Japanese league, I've played it, I've coached it, it's fantastic – maybe a game at the end of the season would sort that out – but Beaudy and Brodie [Retallick] have to come back and sit on the bench.
"You cannot let our guys play through that season while they're away and let them come back and take the team."
Meanwhile, former Crusaders coach and current coach of Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights Robbie Deans believes both Barrett and Retallick would have no problems transitioning from the Top League to the All Blacks.
"Of course they can," Deans told Newstalk ZB's Martin Devlin earlier this week.
"And you've seen it in the last two years. You saw it with Matt Todd, he was chosen for the All Blacks from Panasonic, you saw it with Sam Whitelock when he came back for that [The Rugby Championship] campaign last year.
"[Whitelock] was pre-maturely included due to Covid last year. He went back and played the house down in Super Rugby last year and won another title.
"Yes, is the answer."