Beauden Barrett needs to live up to his Super Rugby star billing
OPINION: Chris Boyd says Otere Black will kick for the Hurricanes against the Cheetahs, on Saturday.
Black says he and Beauden Barrett haven't decided. If you were of the betting persuasion, you'd put $5 on it being Black.
Whether he has the kicking tee or not, Barrett - who'll line up at fullback - owes the Hurricanes a performance.
People fall over themselves to shower Barrett with praise, a lot of which is warranted. But his performance at first five-eighth against the Crusaders last week was ordinary and it's okay to say so.
There is a risk-reward with Barrett that will always make people a little wary of him. The good is often outrageously good and hugely effective and without him it's unlikely the Hurricanes would have won a Super Rugby title last year.
But his goalkicking percentage - on the rare occasions he takes the tee these days - doesn't tend to exceed 70 and he added some ineffective kicking from general play to the mix last week.
Barrett did the same when the Hurricanes lost to the Chiefs in March and it would be easy to assume the failure of the pack to gain ascendancy was the reason. However, Hurricanes backs coach Jason Holland said not, indicating Barrett and company couldn't blame the forwards for their poor option taking and skill execution in the 20-12 loss to the Crusaders.
The Hurricanes now meet the Cheetahs, Bulls and Force, who are unlikely to put Barrett in a vulnerable position. It won't be until the Chiefs hit Westpac Stadium on June 9 that we'll find out what he's learned form this year's bad nights.
The battle of Suva
Hurricanes coach Boyd will be as interested as anyone, in Friday's clash between the Chiefs and Crusaders in Fiji. Both sides have given Boyd's forwards a tickle up this season and negated the impact of the backs.
For all the fads and jargon and supposed off-field advances, rugby remains a game in which the team that wins the physical battle invariably wins the match.
"I think there'll be a good yardstick for the New Zealand forward play this weekend in Suva. I think that's going to be a fair old ding-dong," Boyd said.
"The Crusaders have also got to play the Highlanders [on June 3] so the New Zealand sides will be into each other for the next five weeks."
It's the Stormers in Cape Town on the schedule for the Blues, whose 50-32 win over the Cheetahs last week kept them in with an outside chance of emerging from the New Zealand conference.
Physicality was in desperately short supply in that Cheetahs game. The Cheetahs didn't seem to fancy tackling, while the Blues were happy for the visitors to drive over from lineouts on a regular basis.
The Blues have some fine athletes in their squad and produced some good moments of individuality against the Cheetahs. But it would be a shame if that blinded anyone into thinking they played well as a team or are building towards anything substantial.
On the punt
The Force at $4.80 to beat the Highlanders in Perth, looks appealing.
Piling on points isn't a Force speciality, but their effort levels are exceptional and they're coming off last week's surprise win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. The Highlanders will have to play well to beat them.