Last week marked the 10-year anniversary of Beauden Barrett’s All Blacks debut.
That game in Hamilton still haunts Ireland, but for New Zealand it marked the night a star was born. On Wednesday night, as Ireland returned to the scene of one of the darkest days in the country’s rugby history, the mind wandered back to the horror of that infamous 60-0 drubbing.
An early injury for Aaron Cruden meant Barrett was sprung from the bench much earlier than expected. It didn’t take him long to show why there had been so much hype around the kid from New Plymouth.
Barrett has scaled dizzying heights since then and while Ireland may not have done the same, the rivalry has at least grown, which is more than what you could say when Barrett burst onto the scene.
“Yeah, it certainly has and we’ve been over to Dublin a few times since then,” Barrett said. “They’re, obviously, a quality side – they’re well coached, have been for a number of years. Under Johnny Sexton, he knows how to run the cut of the game that they want to play, and it’s built on the back of a really good set-piece and a breakdown that they pride themselves on.
“So we’ve seen the game evolve a fair bit from back when I debuted ten years ago, and we’ve seen their team grow significantly. Up to a couple of years ago, they were world No 1 – and rightly so. They’re a quality team and we felt that last year in Dublin.”
Barrett turned 31 last month, whereas his opposite number at Eden Park is about to celebrate his 37th birthday. Barrett and Sexton are two very different out-halves, but both are match-winners.
“He’s been a great player for a number of years now and he’s a key part of their game, so I’ll be looking forward to that,” Barrett said of coming up against Sexton once again.
Their duel will be just one of several mouth-watering individual battles in the first Test.
Hooker Dan Sheehan will face another big test of his development as he locks horns with Codie Taylor.
“We’ve looked at last year’s game and reflected on the last time we played Ireland, a physical game – they took it to us, and we probably didn’t respond the way we needed to, particularly in the second half,” Taylor maintained
“We’re expecting a lot of the same. They’ve backed their style of play, they’re a great attacking team and they put the ball on a plate for the likes of Johnny Sexton. And so it’s up to us as forwards to make sure we slow the ball down as best we can and do a job in that area, because when they get a roll on it’s quite hard to stop.
“They’ve got a great lineout and really, really good skills at the line,” Taylor added.
“So all that good stuff about us staying alive and being in the game and not on the ground is going to be crucial for us.”