Lions tour: Classy Beauden Barrett excels as the All Blacks' fallback option
For the world's best first five-eighth, Beauden Barrett sure is a smooth operator at fullback.
Adaptability is valued highly in the All Blacks, and Barrett showcased his in Saturday's night 30-15 first test victory over the British and Irish Lions when he had to move back to fullback after just 25 minutes when Ben Smith departed with a head knock.
The All Blacks hardly missed a beat with a backline reshuffle that saw Aaron Cruden come in at first five, and Anton Lienert-Brown have to slot into the midfield early on after Ryan Crotty pulled a hammy.
In fact, Barrett made such a fine fist of his switch that he just might be rewarded with a start there for the second test in Wellington next Saturday. Coach Steve Hansen wasn't giving anything away on Sunday when quizzed on plans if Smith's third head knock of the year forces another spell on the sideline, but he admitted Barrett was an extremely viable alternative.
"It's a slightly different role, you're sitting back a little bit more, and you've got a different type of view," Barrett said on Sunday before the team decamped to the capital.
"But once it gets into phase play it's not a lot different, and there are very similar skillsets needed."
Barrett felt a high-quality and free-flowing first test of this much anticipated series had lived up to its billing.
"I was blowing out there, right from the first few minutes. 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."
The now 51-test playmaker credited the bench players with their ability to impact seamlessly, both early (for injuries) and later when the changes were tactical.
"That's what's expected in this team, to add something when you come off the bench, and I thought those guys who did that were great," he said.
He also had nothing but praise for skipper Kieran Read's stunning return from long-term injury. "I don't know how his match fitness and skills were up to it. It was inspirational, particularly that pickup from the scrum. That was world-class and led to a try. It's hard not to follow that."
In terms of the Lions, Barrett was impressed with a "dangerous back three. When you give them space and time, they can tear any team up, so we have to work on that.
"I'm sure there are many improvements we can make. It's a good start but it's only a start so it's exciting to be going back to Wellington and building on that performance."
The All Blacks undoubtedly won the tactical battle on Saturday night, negating that feared Lions line-speed with a concentrated attack down the inside channels.
But Barrett admitted that what worked well this week, might not the next one. "It's about how we adapt on the run, because they may defend the same next week, or they may not," he added.
One aspect of the Barrett game that had to be satisfying was his goalkicking. A lot had been said and written about his lack of form there with the Canes, but it was all wide of the mark as evidenced by a six-from-six night with the boot, including a couple from the sideline.
"It's an area of my game I've been working on," he said. "If you put a bit of time into it, keep building on it, it's nice to see the rewards. But it's only a start.
"I had kicked well during the week, but it's all on the night. The more relaxed about it you can be, the better. It's good for the head space."
And right now Barrett's head is in the right place. Just how it should be for the best player on the planet.