How Barrett's transfer could impact New Zealand Rugby
OPINION: News of Beauden Barrett’s move to the Blues has come as a surprise to many, given the obvious factors that were keeping him in Wellington.
Barrett, however, was quick to note that reasons external to rugby played a major part in his decision, as they should.
With the Hurricanes, the Tarankai flyhalf knew what lay ahead of him. Next year the franchise’s biggest losses – excepting Barrett – will be Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Matt Proctor and Nehe Milner-Skudder.
The Hurricanes have ready-made replacements for those players. Tyrel Lomax will join the team from the Highlanders and can slot straight onto the tighthead side of the scrum, whilst Proctor and Milner-Skudder’s absences can be covered by the likes of Vince Aso, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Danny Toala, Salesi Rayasi and Chase Tiatia.
In short, the Hurricanes could build on 2019’s semi-final finish and aim to usurp the Crusaders without too much re-building necessary.
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The Blues are on the up, right?
Had Barrett remained with the Hurricanes, his season would have faced little disruption. An extended period away from Super Rugby to start the year may have left the Hurricanes with a little bit of catching up to do, but they’d likely still be in a good position to make a charge for the finals upon Barrett’s return.
Who knows what the playmaker will find when he arrives at the Blues late in the season next year?
The Blues were already realistically out of the running for a playoffs spot three quarters of the way through the 2019 season. It was also arguably one of the easier years to make the playoffs, given the inconsistency from some of Super Rugby’s traditional heavy-hitters.
It’s not unbelievable to think that the Blues will do better next year, but there are certainly far fewer certainties with the Auckland side than what Barrett would have had down in Wellington.
Barrett’s move, of course, will have incredible repercussions around the New Zealand Super Rugby sides – we can probably expect a greater impact from Barrett switching to the Blues than any individual transfer has ever had on Super Rugby as a whole.
Blues already have ample flyhalf coverage
The Blues are well-stocked with three young first fives: Harry Plummer, Otere Black and Stephen Perofeta.
Although all three are signed for the Blues for 2020, it would not be surprising for one of them to be released from their contract to chase more game time elsewhere.
Barrett, Plummer and Perofeta can all cover more than one position in the backline, but there’s probably no point in having four primary first fives in one Super Rugby squad.
The Highlanders have Josh Ioane, Bryn Gatland and Mitch Hunt locked in for 2020 whilst the Crusaders have two All Blacks in Richie Mo’unga and Brett Cameron. The Chiefs and the Hurricanes, however, could be in desperate need of a first five.
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Experienced talent needed at other franchises
This year, the Chiefs used Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Jack Debreczeni, Orbyn Leger and Stephen Donald at 10. Tiaan Falcon was also contracted but was ruled out with injury before the season started.
Damian McKenzie is the only one of those six to have a confirmed contract with the Chiefs for next year – and he’s already signalled that he’d prefer to spend his time at fullback. Warren Gatland will be taking over as coach next year and his credentials could have the sway to lure in a promising player to the region.
The Chiefs will likely look at signing young Waikato and NZ U20s first five Rivez Reihana – but he’s very much a prospect for the future. Stephen Perofeta could be an excellent pick up for the team and would form an exciting partnership with Brad Weber and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. Given that Perofeta has spent the year out with injury, however, he could be a risk pick up.
The Hurricanes are also obviously missing a starting first five now that Barrett is off the books. Fletcher Smith and Jackson Garden-Bachop were both used in Barrett’s absence this year, but neither is yet to really prove themselves at Super Rugby level. Smith has been the better performer in New Zealand’s provincial scene to date, but Garden-Bachop probably made a better fist of his chances for the Hurricanes this year.
The Blues’ Otere Black began his career with the Hurricanes as an understudy to Barrett but moved north to push for a starting role. Perhaps a return to Black’s old franchise could be on the cards for the 24-year-old.
Blues in the box set
As Barrett won’t be available for the Blues until later in the season, they would be foolish to let go of more than one of their five-eighths. As we’ve seen in 2019, a season-ending injury can come at any time and depth plays a huge role in a team’s success.
Barrett’s late arrival may also mean he’s better utilised at fullback for 2020.
Contracting all three of the young first-fives means that the Blues are really in complete control of who they retain and who they let go – but the third or fourth choice 10 at the franchise won’t be very happy if they’re held onto when they could be starting elsewhere.
What about the other Barrett?
Beauden Barrett’s departure could spell further bad news for the Hurricanes, given that Jordie Barrett supposedly first signed with the team so that he could link up with his older brother. Jordie’s contract with New Zealand and the Hurricanes is also up at the end of 2019 and he could be interested in shifting elsewhere, now that Beauden is moving.
When Jordie burst onto the scene for Canterbury he was an absolute revelation. His first year of provincial rugby was arguably more accomplished than his older brothers, but he hasn’t quite developed at the rate that was expected. The Crusaders are masters at developing their talent into world-class players, and Barrett’s ability to cover first five, midfield and the outside backs would make him an excellent acquisition, given that the Super Rugby champions are losing Mitch Hunt, Ryan Crotty and Israel Dagg for next season. Older brother and All Blacks teammate Scott is also well-established at the Crusaders.
There are plenty of other teams that would be clamouring for Barrett’s signature given his diverse skillset and obvious promise as a player. With the pull of Beauden no longer a carrot, the Hurricanes may struggle to keep Jordie in the capital.
Now might not be the best time to sign a new contract
Alternatively, Jordie may just want to spend a season earning some cash elsewhere. As a relatively junior player in the All Blacks setup, Jordie likely wouldn’t be able to negotiate the same kind of deal as Beauden, Brodie Retallick or Sam Whitelock, so he won’t be able to keep playing for the All Blacks if he does head overseas for even a season. With a new broadcasting deal likely to come into play in 2021, however, Jordie may find there’s a lot more money available if he waits until that season to sign a new contract with New Zealand Rugby.
Beauden Barrett’s decision to head north to the Blues will have ramifications throughout the country. He already cemented himself as an automatic pick with the All Blacks so he’s unlikely to lose any ground on the national scene, but he may find his Super Rugby successes drop off. Whatever happens on a personal level, his transfer will have a major impact at a number of New Zealand franchises – including at his beloved Hurricanes.
By Tom Vinicombe, Rugbypass