Beauden Barrett must beat Owen Farrell for World Rugby's player of the year award
OPINION: The Wallabies need not be smarting from Graham Henry's assessment that they were the worst Australian team he had seen. He may be a Sir, but his word is not gospel.
In the same interview as that remark, Henry made a confession of sorts that gathered much less attention.
He admitted that prior to this year he thought Beauden Barrett was a "fullback playing No 10".
To be fair, Henry was not alone. Before the third test against Wales in June, when Barrett started ahead of the injured Aaron Cruden, he was in danger of being pigeonholed as a impact player; too valuable off the bench as a game-changer, too ill-suited to guide the team from the starting whistle.
Barrett has buried the theory. He has turbocharged the All Blacks' attack. In the seven tests since he grabbed the No 10 jersey, the All Blacks have scored an average of 41 points. He is averaging almost a try per game. He has defied every label given to him and possibly challenged a few minds about what a No 10 should do. He is the world player of the year, not indisputably but certainly convincingly, unless the sages at World Rugby tells us otherwise.
Of course, they have been known to confound common sense. In 2015, they decided that the 'year' part of the prize did not matter and handed the award to Dan Carter for three performances at the Rugby World Cup, when Ma'a Nonu had been the better performer throughout 2015.
They also found Michael Cheika's role in the Wallabies' turnaround too compelling to ignore and gave him the coach of the year award.
If the same logic is applied this year, Eddie Jones will be handed the coaching prize for rescuing England, and the player of the year award will be too heavily influenced by the November tests. Travesty would be laid upon travesty if that is the case.
After this weekend's game against the Wallabies, Barrett might only start another two tests in 2016. Aaron Cruden will surely be given a start as evidence of the All Blacks' respect for him, possibly against Ireland in Chicago, and the game against Italy might be a chance for Lima Sopoaga to show his class. No matter - Barrett's case has already been made.
There is a genuine contender for Barrett to overcome – Owen Farrell of Saracens and England. Even if Farrell's base game – unerring goalkicking, staunch defence, organisation – doesn't stir your imagination, you have to at least recognise his influence. His accomplishments this year have been astonishing. England won the Six Nations, Saracens won the European Cup and Farrell won over some doubters as England beat the Wallabies in June.
But to opt for him over Barrett's elusive running, ambition and ability to alter his depth should provoke almost the same level of incredulity that accompanied Farrell's nomination for the player award in 2012.
The difference between the player is this: Farrell is a very, very good player playing at the top of his game. But Barrett is playing in a way that makes the game itself look good.
Even if this golden form is temporary - and there are good judges who insist Aaron Cruden is still the more complete option - it must be rewarded.
Barrett makes us want to watch the game. He is how we would play if we had the talent. For 80 minutes a week, he gives us sanctuary from the series of bad headlines that have dogged rugby this year, many of them undeserved.
He is the player of the year.