Taranaki first five-eighth Beauden Barrett can hardly believe the year he has had. He talks to Glenn McLean about the Hurricanes and making the All Blacks for the first time.
Almost 12 months ago, as he accepted the Taranaki Daily News Person of the Year award, Beauden Barrett was asked a somewhat loaded question.
It went along the lines of "did he think that if he continued to display the form he was showing, it wouldn't be too long before he would be slipping on a black jersey?"
"I would be surprised," Barrett said with an incredulous laugh. "I would be blown away if I got called up."
Blown away he was, then, when the confirmation came early in June that he would be required for the All Blacks test series against Ireland. Then, on Saturday, June 23, the 21-year-old got the call from the bench, midway through the first half, that first five-eighth Aaron Cruden was coming off and he was needed.
One can only imagine how he felt as he approached the sideline with almost an hour left in the third and final test.
It's a testament to Barrett, however, that he showed little sign of the nerves that must have been affecting him as he gave a polished performance, albeit on the back of a totally dominant All Blacks pack.
Now, six months on, the Pungarehu playmaker has test caps against Argentina, Scotland, Italy and Wales, has travelled across four continents and has generally drawn accolades for the maturity he has shown on and off the field.
"I'm still pinching myself," Barrett said this week, only 24 hours after touching down in New Zealand following a wee break in Europe after the All Blacks' tour.
"Looking back on the year, it's been great. Even though you think you are playing well for the Hurricanes, you still don't expect to make the All Blacks. You just can not have enough time in the All Blacks environment, it's world class and a very enjoyable environment as well."
Not that it's all been plain sailing. An indifferent cameo off the bench against Wales resulted in him receiving some rather scathing comments from some Auckland scribes. Still, the criticism was dwarfed by the mountain of accolades he received through his work with the Hurricanes in his first full season.
He credits the leaders in the Wellington-based franchise, guys such as skipper Conrad Smith, Jason Eaton and Jeremy Thrush, for giving the young side the confidence to play without fear and for lifting his performance to another level.
"We didn't have a lot of expectation put on us but we had high standards and we knew we had the ability to knock off some of the best teams," he said.
One of the many benefits of being an All Black is that while his Hurricanes team-mates are slogging their pre-season out under the December sun, Barrett gets a rest, with his services not required until the end of the January.
"It's a decent break between now and then and I'm just going to chill out here in the 'Naki," he said. "It's great to be home. I haven't seen the sunshine for five weeks or so now, it's awesome."
As for the All Blacks' end-of-year tour, Barrett rated it a success, despite the last-up record loss to England, a test he thankfully avoided.
"We went over there with high expectations and really wanted to finish the season unbeaten and stamp our authority on the world," he said. "We felt we did that in the first three games."
And what exactly was said in the dressing room in Twickenham not long after the final whistle blew?
"There wasn't too much talk about it, just how disappointed we were," he said. "Steve [Hansen] asked us to just remember the feeling, how painful it is for next time we play them. It put a downer on the tour."
As for what he learnt about being on an extended tour, Barrett put the importance of excellent preparation top of his list.
Having not played a lot of rugby between July and November, including just four appearances for Taranaki, he said he felt fresh throughout the tour compared to some of his team-mates.
"Mentally, now, it's a good time to have a break because it has been a big year and I'm going to enjoy the next six weeks or so."
Not one to set goals, preferring instead to "live in the now", he says his biggest aim for 2013 and immediately beyond is to become more consistent.
As for the added attention he had received, especially off the field, he was happy with how he had coped.
"I've always been a welcoming person and don't mind talking to people," he said. "If people want to talk about rugby, I'm happy to answer their questions. But it's good to come back to the 'Naki and hang out with my mates and not even talk about that stuff because at the end of the day, it's only a game . . . Sometimes you just want to talk about normal stuff."
As for a couple of things on his wish list for 2013?
"To win the Super 15 with the Hurricanes, to make the All Blacks squad and really push for that No 10 jersey."
To borrow an All Blacks motto: Impossible is nothing.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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