25 Jul 2016

Barrett proves he's in Carter's league

11:35 am on 25 July 2016

Joseph Romanos, Sports Columnist - Joseph Romanos

Opinion - It's hard to believe that barely a month ago Beauden Barrett could not earn a starting spot in the All Blacks.

Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Now the Hurricanes first five-eighth is being placed on the same elevated pedestal as the legendary Dan Carter.

Barrett, the 25-year-old from New Plymouth, has provided a series of master-class displays to guide the Hurricanes into the Super Rugby semi-finals. His play on Saturday when the Hurricanes shrugged off atrocious weather conditions to smash the Sharks 41-0 was magic.

Next weekend might be Barrett's biggest test. The Hurricanes meet the Chiefs, who will be buoyed by their 60-21 quarter-final demolition of the Stormers, and one of the intriguing aspects of the match will be the showdown between All Black first-five rivals Barrett and Aaron Cruden.

Cruden began the year in the ascendancy, the obvious successor to Carter. He started in the first two tests against Wales in June, with Barrett being consigned to the reserves and the damned-with-faint-praise label of "impact player".

When Cruden was injured in the second test, Barrett got his chance. He was excellent for the final hour of that match and played the full third test, where he showed all his skills.

A direct comparison with Carter is intriguing.

Carter was the better place-kicker, but Barrett is equally good with his tactical kicking. Carter was a wonderful tackler but, counter-balancing that, Barrett has astonishing speed of foot. Both have vision and the courage to take chances. Barrett is more versatile - he is an international quality winger and fullback, whereas Carter was really a specialist first-five who looked less happy when pushed out to second-five.

It's true Barrett makes a major impact when he jogs on to the field an hour into a match. His speed leaves weary opposing players in his wake.

But actually Barrett is better than that. He is effective at any time of the match, as his form for the Hurricanes has revealed. Never mind about being a good reserve; he is a match-winner from the opening whistle.

Beauden Barrett scores a sensational try in the Rugby World Cup final.

Beauden Barrett scores a sensational try in the Rugby World Cup final. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Barrett has trod the royal rugby path.

He spearheaded New Zealand to an under-20 World Cup win, was a tremendous sevens player in 2012, and took to test rugby later that year as if born to it.

The only clouds in his career were knee and calf injuries last season. They affected his place-kicking for a time, but didn't prevent him becoming an important cog in the 2015 World Cup-winning All Blacks.

This is not to write off Cruden, who suffered the heartbreak of missing that World Cup because of injury. He has played well this season and was pivotal in the Chiefs' big win over the Stormers on Sunday. But my feeling is that Beauden is the first five-eighth of the future.

Grant Fox was a revelation in the late 1980s, with his unerring place-kicking and the way he controlled a match. Andrew Mehrtens took the role up a notch a few years later, being virtually as sure a goal-kicker and more versatile in general play.

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Dan Carter left big boots to fill Photo: PhotoSport

Then came Carter, who added more dimensions to the role, because he could defend as well as anyone and was such a potent attacker.

Now Barrett, full of adventure and oozing with all-round talent, is advancing the role yet further.

We thought we'd never see the likes of Fox again. Then Mehrtens turned up. He retired, only to have Carter step straight into the No 10 jersey.

It defied belief that the All Blacks would find a player that good, or even better, so soon after Carter departed, but they have.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.

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