WELLINGTON (Reuters) - With All Blacks coach Steve Hansen still casting his eye around Super Rugby while he fine tunes his squad for the World Cup, Jordie Barrett and Sevu Reece picked the perfect time to put down a marker for the global showpiece.
Hansen’s plans were thrown a curve two weeks ago when Damian McKenzie was ruled out for the rest of the year with a knee injury. McKenzie’s utility value gave Hansen the option to take him as the likely starting fullback and third-choice flyhalf behind Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga.
With Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane certainties in the back three mix, Barrett, who has played mostly fullback in his nine tests, could have been on the fringes of the World Cup squad if McKenzie was available.
But he gave Hansen something to think about on Saturday.
Making his first appearance in the number 15 jersey since week two, Barrett was superb for the Wellington Hurricanes in their 47-19 demolition of the Waikato Chiefs.
The 22-year-old enjoyed the extra space the position afforded him to score two tries and help in two more, ran for 196 metres — the most in the game — and was combative in the tackle and in ball carrying.
It was arguably his best game of the season and could not have been better timed with Hansen telling local media on Sunday that McKenzie’s injury was not as big an issue as many armchair selectors in the rugby-mad country believed.
“If there’s a third first five (flyhalf) we feel is up to the mark, we’ll take him,” Hansen told the Sunday Star Times. “If not, we’ll cover it from within the group. Then we take another outside back who can rip and tear and open teams up.”
Canterbury Crusaders winger Reece may also fit that bill, having impressed again on Friday against the Lions. He set up Braydon Ennor’s try and scored two himself, the first coming after he ran through the tackles of much bigger forwards.
Reece was a late call-up by the Crusaders after he had a contract in Ireland cancelled due to a court appearance for assaulting his girlfriend.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said he was not prepared to speculate about a possible World Cup call-up for the 22-year-old but acknowledged he was a handy pickup by the nine-times champions and playing well.
“It’s pretty special form, isn’t it? I could chuck in that speculation myself, but it’s not for me to do that,” Robertson said.
“He just needs to keep playing well.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford