Barnes' form giving Robbie Deans a headache
To suggest Berrick Barnes is in a good head space these days is a no-brainer.
A year after his rugby career was in jeopardy as he battled footballers' migraine, the 26-year-old first five-eighth has provided Robbie Deans with a potential headache as he plans for the inaugural Rugby Championship and the August 18 opener again the All Blacks.
Barnes cut a forlorn figure 12 months ago when he was assisted from the Sydney Football Stadium after his trademark head gear couldn't quite absorb another concussion against the Highlanders.
Distraught, he spoke fearfully of the affect these jolts would have in later life.
However, after a month off Barnes returned to club rugby and eventually test duty at the World Cup as a utility back, ostensibly a stand-by for Quade Cooper.
Barnes also had his issues at the rebranded SFS this season, though they were mental rather than physical as the NSW Waratahs bumbled their way out of Super Rugby finals contention before the June international window.
But yesterday he was all smiles after kicking the match-sealing penalty against Wales at Allianz Stadium, a smooth strike that secured a 20-19 victory and a series clean sweep.
Barnes was named man of the match for a second successive test, his radar boot complementing assured general play.
Now his baby boy Archie, who arrived shortly before last weekend's clash with the Six Nations champions in Melbourne, is the solitary cause of any sleepless nights.
A first-time father, Barnes famously arrived at Etihad Stadium after a rushed trip from a Sydney maternity ward via Melbourne airport while his teammates were readying themselves for kick-off.
The exertions of that emotionally-charged journey finally manifested in the dying stages when he was subbed off with a limp after missing a penalty.
Kiwi import Mike Harris stepped off the bench to win the series but in the "dead rubber" Barnes was the pivotal figure as the 41-test veteran produced another career-enhancing performance.
Although highly regarded by Deans, Barnes effectively owed his selection to Cooper, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale being unavailable due to injury.
Cooper and O'Connor should be back for the opening Bledisloe Cup clash while Beale endured an error-strewn comeback in the fullback position yesterday.
Despite a disastrous World Cup campaign Cooper should be able to seek redemption against the All Blacks, fitness willing, but Barnes has strengthened his claims on the No.10 jersey over the past three weeks.
"Hopefully we'll be confronted with choice," Deans said.
"For Berrick to come out of this month with the confidence he's got is great.
"He had some significant challenges last year that were potentially going to threaten his career.
"He's back now and obviously credit to the whole group because we structured our game to play to the strengths of our people and he's benefited off the back of that."
Utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper echoed the sentiments of his teammates when lauding Barnes contribution to a series win that restored pride after Scotland won the season-opening fixture 9-6 in Newcastle on June 5.
"He's been absolutely incredible over the last couple of weeks. He's had more challenges to face than anyone else in the team and for him to overcome them shows the character he is."
Barnes was delighted with his efforts a year after he could have been headed for retirement.
"I've been fortunate an opportunity presented itself. I didn't think I was playing too bad in the last few rounds of Super Rugby so I felt I was building," he said, adding parenthood was also a positive.
"That's definitely helped and given me a spur on. It puts a lot of things in perspective."