Tuesday 17 September 2019

Beauden Barrett: 'Debut against Ireland was a career highlight, I felt like Superman'

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett. Photo: Sportsfile

CIan Tracey

For the first 11 minutes of a wide-ranging 15-minute conversation with Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith, the All Blacks pair are gushing in their praise of Ireland and how far they have come.

That is until Barrett allows the mask to slip when pressed further on how Ireland, and in particular, how Bundee Aki has evolved.

"To be fair, I haven't seen a lot of Irish games," Barrett admits without batting an eyelid.

For all that the perception of Irish rugby has shifted in New Zealand, the All Blacks remain so self-obsessed that focusing much on anything outside of their own four walls is not part of the mantra.

That is not to suggest that behind the scenes this week, Steve Hansen isn't drilling his players on the subtleties surrounding Joe Schmidt's game-plan, but publicly at least, Barrett didn't pass any apology about not being able to give more precise examples about Ireland's evolution.

Reigning After all, this is the reigning World Player of the Year, who has his sights on winning the gong for the third consecutive year at the end of the month.

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but Barrett falls on the side of being supremely self-assured.

It has been quite the journey for the 27-year old since he won the first of his 71 caps during the 60-0 drubbing of Ireland at Hamilton back in 2012.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

"It was the highlight of my career, the first opportunity to wear the black jersey," Barrett reflects.

"Coming off the bench, I felt like Superman - making tackles I'd never made before.

"I couldn't tackle back then so it just gave me a wonderful sense of power and energy. It was a long time ago now it seems."

For all of the spectacular moments that Barrett has provided, his work without the ball has been a major focus for him.

Taking on the unenviable task of filling Dan Carter's boots meant that all aspects of his game had to be flawless, including his defence.

"Aw look, you have to grow that area of the game," Barrett maintains. "You don't want to be a weak link in that transition zone, otherwise teams will just target you for every strike move.

"It was an area that I had to work on and focus on and Steve (Hansen) made that obvious to me. I worked hard on it and yeah, it's just one of those things that you have to grow into your body.

"I was quite young back then. I didn't feel strong and confident too much. I think that's part of it too.

"It gets me into the game when you are forced to make a few tackles early on. It gets you into that right head space."

The 60-0 hammering in Hamilton remains one of the dark days in Irish rugby history but a year later Schmidt took the reins and slowly began to turn the tide.

"We haven't played Ireland at home since then," Barrett says."I've played them twice up here and once in Chicago. It's always tough. That shows the strength of Ireland and how far they have come. We respect them as a team. They've improved a lot.

"Ronan O'Gara was playing back then. A guy who I looked up to in my younger years. The team has changed a lot but so has the game.

"It has been six years, so yeah we have seen the great development of the Irish game. I guess that's on the back of some pretty good coaches as well. Like I said, their game has come a long way. I think it shows why Ireland are the number two."

Having only ever lost five games for New Zealand, giving him a staggering win percentage of 91.54, it's safe to say that Barrett isn't accustomed to being beaten on the international stage. However, the defeat in Chicago two years ago, in which the Hurricanes supremo kicked nine points, still stings.

"When you lose in an All Black jersey, it's never nice," the out-half insists.

"We can draw from those experiences, just a small reminder of how we felt in that changing room - to always respect Ireland.

"We know they're a smart team, they'll throw a few things at us we've never seen before. They're playing well, they're very creative, so that gets us in a good mental spot for this week and whenever we'll play them in the future.

Evolving "What we've seen recently, isn't the same Irish defence we've seen in the past. They're always changing, always growing and evolving.

"We are so used to playing an expansive game down in southern hemisphere so it's always a test for a Kiwi fly-half coming up here and experiencing something different."

Like Ireland, the New Zealand squad have a down day today and Barrett, who is a keen golfer, playing off 7, plans to take some time out on the course.

His brother Scott, who is also part of the squad, has plans to visit family friends in Meath. Growing up, three of the five Barrett brothers, Beauden, Scott, and Kane spent time in Ballinacree, where they played Gaelic football with St Brigid's and went to St Fiach's primary school after dad Kevin took on a role as a farm manager in the Royal County.

"Absolutely, we keep in contact with our friends from Meath often," Beauden adds. "I think Scott will catch up with them. I plan to go golfing, so I'm sorry I can't make it up. They're great people, great friends to have."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport