WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A Steve Hansen hunch late last year paid off on Thursday when uncapped 20-year-old Jordie Barrett joined brothers Scott and Beauden in the All Blacks squad for the British and Irish Lions test series.
Three of former Wellington Hurricanes lock Kevin ‘Smiley’ Barrett’s five sons, they are the first trio of brothers to be named in the same All Blacks squad.
Only three other families, the Nicholls and Brownlies in the 1920s and the Whitelocks this century, have had three brothers appear for New Zealand.
“It might have been in our wildest of aspirations, but definitely didn’t think it was a possibility,” Jordie told reporters.
“It was a bit of a buzz looking at my phone and seeing a few messages. Don’t know if it’s quite sunk in yet, but it was quite a special moment.”
The special moment came about after a gamble made by All Blacks coach Hansen to include Jordie on their end of season tour to Europe as an ‘apprentice’ last year.
There was no pressure. No expectations. No game time.
It was just an opportunity for the then 19-year-old to learn about the All Blacks environment, while the coaches got a chance to assess him more closely.
“Jordie coming away with us last year has paid dividends,” Hansen told reporters in Auckland. “He had a taste of what it’s like without the pressure, and we think he’s ready to step in and face whatever is chucked at him.”
Jordie, who had mostly played inside centre for Canterbury and the under-20 ‘Baby Blacks’, joined lock Scott, who made his debut against Ireland in Chicago and impressed so much he ended up playing all four tests.
Flyhalf Beauden was winding down a year that had seen him race past Aaron Cruden as starting flyhalf for the world champions, filling the void left by three-times World Player of the Year Dan Carter.
Beauden’s performances in 2016 ensured the All Blacks barely missed Carter and he too was named World Player of the Year.
It was the promise of playing with Beauden that lured Jordie north to Wellington from Christchurch, where he was also being pursued by the Canterbury Crusaders.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd had expected to bring Jordie, who wanted to play inside centre, into Super Rugby slowly but injuries to World Cup winner Nehe Milner-Skudder forced his hand.
Jordie has barely put a foot wrong and his interplay with Beauden sometimes suggests they are still playing on the back lawn of the family farm in coastal Taranaki rather than in a packed stadium.
The younger brother probably does not have the same pace as Beauden, few do, but he has superb handling skills, vision and at 1.96m tall is tough to beat under the high ball.
His versatility across the backline also helped, as did the fact he assumed the mantle of goalkicking for the Hurricanes and is more accurate than Beauden.
It is his coolness under pressure, however, that has impressed coaches and team mates alike.
“He was thrown into a starting spot early on for us and he took it in his stride,” Hurricanes scrumhalf and fellow All Black TJ Perenara told Fairfax Media on Thursday.
“There isn’t too many situations that I’ve seen Jordie Barrett nervous or flustered in ... not too much actually fazes him.”
The Lions await.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney