The All Blacks benefit when Beauden Barrett is made to struggle
OPINION: There is a pattern emerging with Beauden Barrett but it is neither revelatory nor particularly worrisome.
When the team in which he plays struggles, especially in the contact zone, so does the No 10.
Think back not only to Saturday night against the Crusaders but the Chiefs in Hamilton in March. Or the Wallabies at Eden Park in October, last year when his goalkicking also deserted him and the All Blacks called Aaron Cruden from the bench to restore some order.
It would be a concern if this was unique to him but this is the life of the No 10.
When the All Blacks and Dan Carter were undone by the Wallabies' line speed in Sydney in 2015 prior to the World Cup the masses called the knacker's yard to alert them to the imminent arrival of a washed-up great. Instead, his subsequent performances at the World Cup proved that you don't stop learning even as a 30-something.
And so it is with Barrett. The Hurricanes No 10 is spectacular but he is not the finished product. His peak may not be until 2019. He is learning as he goes and the road will at times get bumpy so it is time to calm down and stop chewing on fingernails every time a team puts him under pressure.
In fact, there is nothing he needs more now than some tough games. The All Blacks' wise men will be hoping he gets put under more pressure when the Hurricanes host the Chiefs on June 9, the last game in the New Zealand Super rugby conference before the British and Lions arrive with a gameplan to shut down his space.
If there is one thing that would be worrying them at present it is not the injuries and certainly not a few tough nights for Barrett, it is the lack of competition from the South African and Australian teams.
Defensively, they have either been waving the New Zealand teams through with their lack of physicality or displaying such tactical naivety that Mitre 10 Cup sides could work them out.
Take the Hurricanes' win against the Stormers two weeks ago for example. For a lot of that game the Stormers were superior physically but they defended so narrowly that a player with far less skill than Barrett could have exploited them.
They signposted that weakness too, one week earlier. Against the Crusaders in Christchurch they left so much room on the outside that George Bridge just had to hold his width and fall over the try-line when his midfielders found him with two long passes (Crusaders centre Jack Goodhue, incidentally, is an All Black within two years, maximum).
So while Barrett's cross-kicks against the Stormers were easy on the eye their relevance in the context of the Lions were limited.
They will defend differently and have picked players in the back three whose back-field coverage and aerial skills are excellent. The pictures we see in Super Rugby are not the ones we'll get when Warren's boys arrive.
Of course, the All Blacks will pick Barrett at No 10 against the Lions. But they will be all the better if he starts that series a little on edge, having been in situations where he has been made to adapt.
That's what the Crusaders did on Saturday night and the Chiefs before him in round three. They should be thanked for their service.
As for the Hurricanes, there is one thing they can do to assist. Hand Barrett the kicking tee, starting against the Cheetahs on Saturday. It is time the conductor took full control of the orchestra.