TOKYO (Reuters) - For a playmaker who claimed back-to-back World Player of the Year awards as flyhalf in 2016-17, Beauden Barrett might have had some cause to query the decision to move him out of the All Blacks’ engine room in a World Cup year.
Instead, Barrett just got on with the job at fullback while team mate Richie Mo’unga wore the number 10 shirt during the Rugby Championship.
Over the past two seasons, Canterbury Crusader Mo’unga had been nipping at Barrett’s heels for the coveted jersey with marauding form in Super Rugby.
Yet it was still a surprise when coach Steve Hansen tore up the playbook and opted for dual playmakers in the recent tests against South Africa and Australia, with Barrett shifted back and Mo’unga pulling the strings.
Prior to the South Africa match in Wellington, Barrett had not played fullback since coming off the bench against Australia in the leadup to the 2015 World Cup.
There was no complaining about the switch, he said, while readily admitting 15 was not his favourite position.
“It was something I embraced,” the 28-year-old told New Zealand website Stuff ahead of the All Blacks’ World Cup opener against South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday.
“This is a team sport and it’s the best thing for the team,” he says.
“The 15 jersey is just as important as the 10 jersey. It’s not an egotistical thing for me. It’s get on with it, do what’s best for the team and support Steve and Fozzie (assistant coach Ian Foster) with the decision.”
Some New Zealand fans were not quite as enthused with the new setup and initial results suggested it had misfired.
The All Blacks were held 16-16 by the Springboks in Wellington and then thrashed 47-26 by Australia in Perth, having been reduced to 14 men by a red card at halftime.
Back at Eden Park, however, the All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies 36-0, even with Mo’unga forced to leave the field injured in the second half.
“That was probably the best one yet,” Barrett said.
“It requires a fair bit of ball to dictate play the way we’d like to. Our intent was certainly there.”
With Mo’unga injured, Barrett was returned to starting flyhalf for the All Blacks’ 92-7 trouncing of Tonga in their final World Cup warmup.
Having already tasted a World Cup triumph at the 2015 tournament, Barrett hopes his younger brothers Scott, a lock, and outside back Jordie can enjoy a successful title defence with him in Japan.
The trio became the first set of brothers to start a test match when they lined up against France last year, and could make further history at the World Cup.
“There’s nothing like hearing your name read out alongside your brothers,” he said.
“This cycle of four years has seen Jordie and Scott come on to the scene and work towards this goal of going to the World Cup. Here we are and we can’t wait.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty