Talk about sipping from the fountain of knowledge. Beauden Barrett couldn't have asked for a better room-mate.
Barrett's initial nerves when approaching his first All Blacks' callup have been quashed by the close presence of Dan Carter. The master and his future apprentice in the same quarters, one might suggest.
Though Aaron Cruden is the next logical successor and Carter isn't about to relinquish his mantle, Barrett's ability to step up with aplomb and direct the Hurricanes this year has created a feeling of when, not if, his All Blacks debut will arrive.
He's already represented his country at age-group level and sevens and appears to harness the unflappable genes needed at the highest level.
Barrett will attempt to capitalise on the All Blacks' three-day camp in Auckland this week by prising open one of the most naturally gifted rugby brains, bunking beside him. Outside team meetings and weight sessions, acquiring every ounce of Carter's expertise is the task. His notebook will be chock-a-block.
If a "room-mate request" memo went out with the naming of Steve Hansen's first 35-man extended squad, you can be sure the budding first five-eighths pencilled in Carter as his preferred option, for good reason. Soaking up some invaluable secrets will only enhance his talent. There is no better mentor.
Barrett is savouring this rare opportunity. "I was thinking to myself: `I wonder who I'm going to be rooming with'," he said, his voice ringing with excitement. "I walked in and he was standing there. I've met him before so it wasn't too bad. He's a great bloke and we get on really well."
For a raw prodigy such as Barrett, at this early stage of his career, the first All Blacks experience is probably more about development, the chance to be immersed in the environment and familiarise oneself with game-plans for next month's three-test series with Ireland. Then, if called upon, he will be ready.
With Carter and Cruden depositing a sizeable, long-term mortgage on the playmaking berths, it's thought only injury could see the 21-year-old force his way in. But, the Taranaki product senses another potential opening at fullback, despite the possible inclusion of Hurricanes team-mate Andre Taylor and additional presence of Israel Dagg and Ben Smith.
Last year, Barrett featured prominently for the world champion New Zealand under-20s at the back and filled that same role off the bench for the Hurricanes in their loss to the Brumbies on Friday night. Yesterday, he made a definitive statement that he would happily slot in at fullback for the All Blacks, if required.
Cory Jane's six-week ankle injury could see Barrett get another chance to push his diverse value in the No15 jersey against the Rebels this week with the Hurricanes considering keeping Samoan international Tusi Pisi at pivot. Defensive deficiencies could be a concern, however, with Barrett leading some Super Rugby missed-tackle counts.
"Yes, definitely," he said of providing fullback cover. "I enjoyed my time at fullback with the under-20s. In the Super 15 it's a bigger step and I've still got a lot to learn there. The game at the weekend wasn't a polished performance from myself but hopefully I can learn from Andre and Cory.
"This year has been great playing No10 and being in the driver's seat has done a lot for my confidence and understanding of the game. I'm enjoying my time at first five.
"But I'm not too sure if I'll be there this week."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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