WELLINGTON, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The Auckland Blues have said they will be without new signing Beauden Barrett for the first few months of the new Super Rugby season after the All Blacks flyhalf exercised a clause in his contract allowing him an extended break from the game.
Coach Leon MacDonald told reporters in Auckland on Friday that Barrett had attended some training sessions with his new team mates but was not expected “on the grass” until mid-April.
Barrett signed a four-year contract with the Blues in July, ending an eight-year association with the Wellington Hurricanes. The contract allowed him the extended break ahead of the 2020 season and also the option to pursue a short-term deal in Japan.
He could make his debut for the Blues in Week 11 of the competition, when they face the Hurricanes on April 11.
MacDonald said Barrett’s late arrival was no cause for concern.
“We’re happy, he’s happy, and it’s no different to guys coming back late through injury or whatever the cause,” he added. “So you adapt with players coming and going all the time.”
Barrett’s move to Auckland was something of a coup for the three-times Super Rugby champions, who have been looking for a flyhalf to drive the team around the field since Carlos Spencer left in 2005.
They have not won the title since 2003, nor made the playoffs since 2011, and have consistently been the worst-performing New Zealand franchise over the last eight years.
MacDonald added that All Blacks winger Rieko Ioane would be given every opportunity to cement a switch to the midfield this season, a move the 22-year-old has been calling for over the last two years.
“We’re committed to giving Rico a good crack at centre,” added MacDonald. “It will be up to him whether he becomes the starting centre.
“Nobody is assured of any position, so he understands that. He made it clear he’ll do whatever is best for the team. But I’ve seen him play centre and he’s pretty outstanding there as well.”
Ioane struggled last season for both the Blues and All Blacks and was replaced by George Bridge as the starting left winger at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Blues host the Waikato Chiefs at Eden Park in the first match of the 2020 season on Jan. 31.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford