Mehrtens: Barrett as ABs' No 10 right way to go

18:34, Jun 17 2014
Beauden Barrett
BIDING HIS TIME: Beauden Barrett remains patient in his quest to pull on the All Blacks No 10 jersey for the first time.

The time is right for Beauden Barrett to start at No 10 for the All Blacks, with Saturday's final test against England the ideal opportunity for both him and his coaches to answer a few key questions.

This is no slight on Aaron Cruden who has been building nicely back towards his best form through the first two June tests.

But just like Dunedin presented the ideal chance for Ben Smith to get a run at fullback - and, boy, did he respond to that - this week in Hamilton is a tailor-made opportunity for Barrett to get a first start that, frankly, the young man deserves.

As a 10 coming off the bench you can almost be in a no-lose situation. Towards the end of my career I enjoyed the sub's role, as with the pressure off it's almost all care, no responsibility.

Giving Barrett a taste of being the main man, with that extra responsibility, will be invaluable for him. Everything indicates he can handle it easily, but his coaches need to see it for themselves.

Cruden hasn't lit it up through the first two tests, but he's got better. He made a try-saving tackle on England hooker Rob Webber in Dunedin, kicked an important goal just before halftime, and carved a gap to beautifully set up Ben Smith's try.


His sharpest form doesn't look far off.

The All Blacks coaches would have made a plan before this series, and Barrett getting a crack this week is likely part of that vision.

After a second-straight highly competitive performance in Dunedin, people are asking: have England closed the gap, and has there been a change in the game's balance of power?

I'm not sure it's pertinent to generalise in those terms, but what I've enjoyed from England is their attitude. They've shown a desire to keep the ball alive, and no little skill in doing so.

Even the most talented England teams of the past have respected their structure and happily slowed it down to go back to the set piece.

These guys want to have a go, and the more they continue with this attitude, the better they'll get. They'll be big threats over there next year, especially with the depth they now have in their game.

There's a bit of talk that Cory Jane has lost his mojo. I don't agree. Sometimes on the wing the game doesn't flow your way, and he hasn't had ball with space so far this series.

I know he's made a few basic errors but sometimes when things aren't running your way you can try too hard. He's no spent force and just needs to keep persevering.

In Hamilton I'd like to see more accuracy and better discipline from the All Blacks. Some sloppy execution early has enabled England to play themselves into both tests, and that's given them the confidence to compete.

The timing of a lot of backline moves is off, too. You saw that when Ma'a Nonu took out Owen Farrell. It was just sloppy execution and poor discipline.

THERE'S too much depth between the front and back wave of runners, and angles aren't particularly good. When you throw a pass behind a guy he needs to be flat and angling in, and not over-running the ball.

If he's a genuine threat it commits a defender and makes it easier for the guy running the outside line. And if that second-wave runner is not too deep, the decoy in front will not have been taken out of the game and can still support a break or clean a ruck. The English backs executed one such move very well off a scrum.

But not done well it's counter-productive.

The All Blacks can go to another level if they hold on to the ball. They did it for 20 minutes after halftime in Dunedin and when they play with that speed and intensity no team in the world can stop them.

You've got to love Ben Smith too. He's an unwilling star, but a star nonetheless. He's not pork-chopping around doing things for show, just does everything it takes, and does it well.

It terms of contributing his full range of skills - making breaks, taking high ball, providing cover defence - he's better utilised at fullback than wing, and while Israel Dagg is injured it's a no-brainer for Steve Hansen. The hard call at No 15 will come later.