OPINION: If coach Steve Hansen holds firm to his over-cautious approach to fringe All Blacks, then we might just have seen the last of Beauden Barrett in a Taranaki jersey for 2012.
Hansen's decision to pull Barrett out of Taranaki's vital NPC game against Auckland tonight is beyond puzzling.
Because the All Blacks disbanded following the weekend's win over South Africa, Hansen is not available for comment, so no explanation has been given.
The only conclusion one can draw is Dan Carter is still struggling with a calf injury and Hansen does not want to risk Barrett being injured, leaving only Aaron Cruden as an option to face Argentina in 10 days.
Given that logic, it seems almost certain Barrett will board a plane to South America on Saturday where he will prepare to face the Pumas on the back of four minutes of rugby in a month.
Following the Argentina test, the All Blacks face South Africa a week later before they return to New Zealand, where the touring party will no doubt be rested before they face Australia in a Bledisloe Cup dead rubber on October 20.
Without the aid of a crystal ball, we don't know what the situation with Carter or Cruden's fitness will be by then, but Hansen's reluctance to risk players such as Barrett means it's not beyond reason he will have Taranaki's best player in Brisbane on standby in case one of them gets injured in the lead-up to the final trans-Tasman match of the year.
With the NPC semifinals the same weekend, and presuming Taranaki make it, they will be without Barrett.
Don't for a minute think Barrett does not deserve the opportunity to further his skills in the All Blacks. He does because he has earned it through his work for the Hurricanes in 2012.
On what we've seen of Barrett this season, he could well deserve a starting crack against Argentina, given Cruden's inability to carry his Super Rugby form into the test arena.
But we should be able to judge for ourselves Barrett's form - against Auckland tonight.
Hansen's strict "no play" policy is also another example of the All Blacks' lack of respect or time for the NPC. He should not be able to wrap so many fringe players in cotton wool because he has taken things to such an extreme that he is worried about nearly all of them getting hurt. It's negative and dismissive of the needs of unions in this country, who need every dollar they can get from such a congested competition.
Barrett brings in fans, lots of them. Tonight's game is also a massive one in the context of the Taranaki season as they attempt to secure a home semifinal.
That could mean tens of thousands of dollars in revenue for the union, not that they are likely to get much sympathy from teams around the country who have put up with this policy for years.
The Taranaki Rugby Football Union board does not want to talk about it and be seen to be criticising the national body, no matter what they think or say behind closed doors.
Taranaki captain Craig Clarke gave his view when quizzed yesterday, saying he understood the reasons behind it.
"They have got their plans and you can't really argue with a team that is doing so well," he said. "We just have to deal with it and we can do it without Beaudy, even though he's a bloody good player."
Let's hope so.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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