Rugby World Cup
Barrett in a class of his own
Canon Rugby in Focus: Beauden Barrett already has a strong claim to be considered the best fullback in world rugby.
The debate, the public one at least, can now be put to bed.
Beauden Barrett is New Zealand’s best fullback. Heck, he’s probably the best in the world, especially now Israel Folau is in sporting purgatory.
It’s an accolade he’s won twice as a first five, and given his form in the All Blacks' first two World Cup tests in Japan, Barrett’s a strong chance to win the gong again in November.
The All Blacks coaches never doubted he would succeed switching to the back but, for a while, there was intense public debate about where Barrett should play.
Ben Smith fans recoiled in horror when he was shunted to the wing for Barrett, and they were even more aghast when Smith was demoted to the bench.
Richie Mo’unga fans were adamant he had to start at first five, and he’s certainly lived up to the task with a man of the match performance in the 63-0 romp against Canada.
And Barrett has made a home for himself at fullback.
He topped all the attacking statistics against Canada with 16 carries, seven defenders beaten, three clean breaks and two try assists.
His try, running off Sonny Bill Williams’ lovely grubber kick, was his 34th in his 80th test. There are many more to come.
His pace also meant he was able to stop Canada's first five Peter Nelson in a rare attacking chance for the Canadians.
The fact Barrett dropped the ball with the line open in the final minute of the match was more a reflection of the work he had done in hot and humid conditions than anything else.
Barrett said it felt like he was running in slow motion.
“It was like I was on a treadmill. I'm glad it was the 79th minute, and not the first minute, or I'd be asking myself some questions. It was pretty exhausting out there," he said.
What sets Barrett aside is the combined threat of his pace, skills, and vision, topped with his sheer audacity. He tries things others don’t dare to dream about.
Sure it helps to play in a rampant team and let’s not forget Canada were average, at best.
The reality is they would lose to all five of New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams, and have been cannon fodder for the All Blacks before.
That was the fifth consecutive time the All Blacks have beaten Canada by 50 or more points.
It was also the 32nd time a team has won at a World Cup by 60 points or more, and the 13th time the All Blacks have achieved the feat.
Why mention that? Well that 13 is three more than Australia and England combined, and shows the attacking mindset the All Blacks continue to bring to the table.
Barrett’s performance against Canada might carry the asterisk of an easy win, but he was just as good in the opening match against South Africa.
And his combination with Mo’unga continues to improve, which bodes well for the playoffs.
It helps, too, that Mo’unga is kicking the goals, as it takes that pressure off Barrett and eases public concerns, too.
The All Blacks were always going to win this test - their 16th successive World Cup win. They will dispatch Namibia in similar fashion and, if the momentum continues to build, should also thrash Italy in the final pool game.
It’s been an ideal draw for the All Blacks, with the only uncertainty coming from who they might play in the quarterfinals. Any of Scotland, Ireland and Japan are a chance.
If Barrett and Mo’unga stay fit - and it seems they will be rested against Namibia - and Brodie Retallick makes a successful return from his shoulder injury, then the All Blacks are going to take a fair bit of stopping.
New Zealand have produced some superb first fives and fullbacks over the years.
Dan Carter and Christian Cullen sit at the top of the tree for me, but Barrett is only a branch below.
In time, he will join them.
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.