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All Blacks sharp-shooter Barrett confounds expectations
June 25, 2017 / 3:05 AM / 6 months ago

All Blacks sharp-shooter Barrett confounds expectations

AUCKLAND (Reuters) - More than a few preconceptions were confounded in the first test between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions on Saturday, not least the strengths and weaknesses of New Zealand flyhalf Beauden Barrett.

Britain Rugby Union - Ireland v New Zealand - 2016 Guinness Series - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 19/11/16 New Zealand's Beauden Barrett prepares to take a kick Reuters / Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic

The All Blacks rode to a 30-15 victory at Eden Park on the back of an abrasive forward effort, supposedly a strength of the tourists, and clinical punishment of Lions errors to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

It had also been presumed that Barrett would be using his pace and instinctive flair to orchestrate the New Zealand backline attack as he has done since inheriting the All Blacks number 10 jersey from Dan Carter.

By contrast with Carter, though, his place-kicking had been identified as a potential weakness when compared to his opposite number, England’s dead-eyed Owen Farrell.

As it transpired, though, New Zealand ran most of their attacking game through their scrumhalves and Barrett in any case spent much of the match at fullback in place of the concussed Ben Smith.

He did, though, nail six kicks out of six from the tee to keep the scoreboard ticking over, a crucial intervention in a test match where the All Blacks were under the cosh for some lengthy periods.

“I was blowing out there, that’s for sure,” Barrett told reporters on Sunday.

”From the first few minutes particularly. They had us under pressure early, it wasn’t a surprise, but in terms of speed and physicality it was right up there.

“I‘m pretty sore today and I‘m sure the big boys are too.”

In words that would have been music to the ears of his coaches, Barrett said his impressive kicking performance - all three conversions were from wide out - was the result of practice.

“It’s just one of those things that I put a bit of time into, keep building on it, and it’s nice to see the rewards,” he added.

“I kicked well in the week ... I guess the more relaxed you can be, the better. It’s good for your head space.”

The move to fullback had not been too much of an adjustment, he said, and the shift in attacking focus from flyhalf to scrumhalf was something he was happy to see reprised if that was the best way to counter the Lions.

“You have to adjust in the game, you can only assume what they’re going to bring each week and it’s about how we adapt on the run,” he said.

“Because they may defend the same next week, who’s to say they won’t change a thing?”

Barrett echoed what already looks like being the All Blacks mantra of the week - “it’s a good start but it’s only a start” - and is particularly excited to be heading home to Wellington for Saturday’s second test.

A hard-fought test gave the 2016 World Player of the Year few opportunities to showcase his more sublime skills but there were gasps from Lions and All Blacks fans alike at a one-handed pick-up of the ball in the first half.

“I surprised myself, I don’t think I’ve bent over so well in my life,” he laughed.

“I‘m quite a stiff bloke, I don’t know how that happened.”

Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Greg Stutchbury

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