Beauden Barrett is the All Blacks' 'lucky charm'
Beauden Barrett has learned to take nothing for granted in the All Blacks - not even the winning that has been a constant since he made his test debut back in 2012.
It's remarkable to think that the 23-year-old first five-eighths doesn't know what it's like to lose as an All Black in a career that's now spanned three seasons and 19 test matches.
He's hoping that will extend to 20 at Sydney's Olympic stadium on Saturday night where he should again undertake his now trademark supersub role against a Wallabies side desperate to end over a decade of Bledisloe woe.
In an All Blacks squad that's lost just one test since Steve Hansen took charge following the 2011 World Cup triumph, Barrett is the longest-serving member of the undefeated club.
Sam Cane (14 tests), Steven Luatua (11), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (14) and Charles Piutau (10) have also never supped from the cup of defeat among the group that have made double-figure test appearances.
But Barrett perhaps personifies the young generation of achievers that Hansen has mined so cleverly, making seamless transitions to test footy and finding ways to contribute in a team full of veteran savvy and world-class ability.
He has played 17 of his 19 tests off the bench, but has become a key contributor as Hansen's designated impact man whenever Dan Carter or Aaron Cruden (usually the former) are not on deck. He's equally quick of feet, and of thought.
Barrett thirsts to start test matches for the All Blacks, but has become so good at the impact role that Hansen is understandably reluctant to remove him as the second part of his one-two punch in the pivot.
''I just do as I'm told,'' he said today when asked about his role off the bench.
''When I'm told to go on there I try to give it my best. It may have worked in the past and they seem to be happy with it, so if they choose to go with that this week then hopefully we can do more of the same.''
Barrett said his mindset is a settled one each week, regardless of his role.
''Whether I'm starting or not, we all have to prepare as if we're starting, that way we know the game-plan inside-out and we're ready to go on in the first minute or the last.''
Barrett is such a cool customer, you can see how he so excels in the late-game role.
He doesn't seem to feel the heat of the occasion - though he says he often gets nervous sitting and waiting for his moment - and adopts a pretty simple approach to whatever chance he gets in the black jersey.
''You do want to keep pushing for that spot and when you get on the field you want to make an impact. I guess it's just proving to the coaches you deserve the jersey.''
He's asked if he feels now that he belongs in this team, among these greats of their generation.
''The more time you spend here, the more you get to know the players and coaches, the more comfortable you get,'' he replied.
''But you can never get comfortable about being here next year or even next week. You performance is on the line, your position is on the line every game, and I suppose that's the great competitive nature of this squad.
''That's why the All Blacks are quite successful.''
Barrett's homespun Taranaki charm is also a big part of his makeup.
He acted surprised when someone referred to him as the team's ''lucky charm'' and said his undefeated status was something he didn't like to think about too much.
''It's a record I'm pretty proud of but don't really reflect on too much,'' he said.
Sydney may be abuzz with Bledisloe fever, but if Barrett is any guide the All Blacks are building at a more sedate pace this side of the Tasman.
''There's bit of nerves and a little bit of tension, but I think we're building nicely,'' he said.
''It's a huge test week so we just want to keep progressing before we head on to the plane on Thursday.''
He said defence was a big focus for a test where the All Blacks have a chance not just to cut off some rising Aussie confidence at the knees, but to extend their win streak to record territory.
He also hinted that they had some special plans in the works to keep Wallaby star Israel Folau on his toes at the back.
''We have but we'll keep that to ourselves,'' he said.
Not surprisingly, the Hurricanes and Taranaki playmaker was also not buying too heavily into the theory that the Wallabies were about to turn the Bledisloe corner.
''They're tracking pretty well, they've had a couple of successful teams in the Brumbies and Waratahs and they'll be pretty confident. We have to respect them,'' he said.
''But it's more about us at the moment. We're just building slowly, and worrying about what we can do.''
It's a sensible approach. And you can't fault the results.
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