Randell: Hungry for on-song playmaker

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2013
Beauden Barrett
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ
ON FIRE: Beauden Barrett slides in to score the for the All Blacks in New Plymouth.

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OPINION: Beauden Barrett would be a better buy for the Blues than Benji Marshall.

The fact the franchise is looking at these contrasting players is reflective of the long struggle the Blues have had with their No 10 jersey.

The general belief is that no one has been able to be the influential playmaker there since Carlos Spencer.

Let's not forget that some pretty classy players like Nick Evans, Luke McAlister and Stephen Brett have had a crack, so maybe the problem runs a bit deeper than just the first-five's role.

But there is clearly a drive by coach Sir John Kirwan to make an influential signing in this position and that's going to be necessary if the Blues are to take the next step and be title contenders again.

There's no doubt that Marshall gets tongues wagging - and he'd probably put some bums on seats, too.

He's grabbed more headlines in the last week than the Super Rugby playoffs themselves - and that says something.

Benji may not quite be Sonny Bill Williams but he's obviously a marketing dream, and in the new age of private ownership, the businessmen who have recently invested in the Blues can undoubtedly see some real upsides to snaring his signature.

But can he do the job on the field?

I'm no rugby league expert but clearly Marshall is a great player in the 13-man game.

However, history would suggest he's going to struggle to make the transition to rugby, especially at the age of 28.

The league players who have managed to make an impact have been outside backs and Brad Thorn, who had the easiest job of being a non-jumping, engine-room lock who loved to push his weight around.

So it doesn't augur well for Benji to step into such an influential role as first-five. But it's a position Barrett is more than comfortable in.

The young man from the Naki has a few pluses on his side.

For a start, he's a natural rugby player and rapidly growing into a useful contributor in the All Blacks mix. He's also only 22 and he's the sort of guy a team could build a future around.

But there's an added bonus that comes with Barrett. Sign him and the Blues not only significantly bolster their ranks but they severely weaken a major opponent, snaring one of the Hurricanes' key players.

So it's a double-edged sword.

It's going to be interesting to see what unfolds for the Blues.

There will continue to be a tonne of interest in Benji and his ultimate destination now he is committed to switching codes.

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All the talk has been about the Blues, Waratahs and Rebels, but there's the big money of France and Japan to tempt him, and the Japanese scene would certainly be a way to ease himself into the 15-man game.

If he is to go directly into the hurly-burly of Super Rugby, then Benji needs to think carefully about the right team, just as the franchises need to think carefully about him.

He needs to add to a team - and he has the skills to do that. But he also needs to go somewhere where he could be given a bit of an armchair ride.

That's why a team like the Melbourne Rebels would be a disaster. He'd just pick up bad habits.

The Waratahs are in a bit of a similar scenario to the Blues - serial under-achievers.

But I suspect the Waratahs are going nowhere, while the Blues appear to be trending up and have an appealing coaching setup.

Marshall is a proud New Zealander, as well as an ambitious professional sportsman, and they will be factors in his thinking, if he believes he can take the added step of international representation.

I doubt he could make the All Blacks. There's a big queue of talent at No 10 and a fair few options at fullback where there's also talk of Marshall playing.

He's got a better shot at cracking the sevens and the 2016 Olympics would obviously be a carrot. But he's also got to tear himself and his wife away from Sydney, which won't be easy.

Conversely, Barrett might find a small hop north appealing.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

- Sunday News

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