Opinion: All Blacks coaches roll the dice with Jordie Barrett

Jordie Barrett
Jordie Barrett. Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: As talented as Jordie Barrett is, this is a gamble.

This may well be the first really questionable selection of Steve Hansen's incredibly successful tenure.

Running a 20-year-old in the vital tactical position of fullback, in his first start, in the most important test of the year, is rolling the dice. The All Blacks selectors must have serious belief in Barrett, as this game will partially define their legacy. I hope they're right and he lives up to his undeniable potential.

Barrett has done some superb things in Super Rugby and looked good for the Canes against the Lions. However, this is a completely different kettle of fish. On a wet night, with the opposition backline full of savvy kickers and a charging defensive line, he will be targeted.

When the pressure came on from the Crusaders this season, Jordie Barrett's inexperience was obvious. It was a learning curve. Without time on the ball, he simply wasn't a factor. The Lions will also get in his face this weekend.

Let's give Barrett his dues. The All Blacks could use a pinpoint goal kicker. He understands his brother Beauden's approach at 10. He has an eye for the try line and tops Super Rugby with 31 offloads, so creates for others. But in the unforgiving atmosphere of test rugby, against the Lions Test team, he's untested.

What became obvious in the second test, with Ben Smith out, is that the All Blacks work better with two fullbacks in their back three, instead of two wingers. Maybe Israel Dagg needed more help at the back, instead of being assisted by running wingers.

The All Blacks kick more than most teams, to gain territorial advantages and open up counter attacking opportunities. They call it shaping defences.  Extra kicking options and trained eyes at the back, create opportunities further forward.

So, if they needed another fullback, but you want experience, what other choices did they have?

They could have started Beauden Barrett at fullback and Aaron Cruden at ten. To call that the safe option is to understate the skills of the two players. They are experienced campaigners, suited to driving this team in the most important game they'll play before the next World Cup. They could have played either side of the ruck and done the job.

It's a combination that has clinched test matches in the last twenty minutes for some time. Maybe they don't want to move the World Player of the Year. Then again, Cruden hasn't lost in 25 starts for the All Blacks.

It's hardly a gamble.

2015 World Cup winner Nehe Milner-Shudder is an option that's been bypassed because he hasn't played much this season.

He's a fullback/winger, with good game management skills. An intelligent player like Milner-Skudder could have been schooled up quickly on their playbook. His ability to create tries from nothing could have been useful, considering the All Blacks barely fired a shot in Wellington.

The selectors obviously have questions over Damian McKenzie's tactical game. Ironically, his penchant for rolling the dice may have counted against him. McKenzie loves to have a crack with ball in hand. Many Chiefs fans would construct an argument he's been as good as Jordie Barrett this year.

He tops Super Rugby in defenders beaten and metres made. He also tops carries and is top ten in clean breaks, offloads and point scored. If they didn't want to use him, maybe Milner-Skudder could have come into the squad?

Jordie Barrett's time has come sooner than intended. Let's hope his time is now.

Ross Karl is Newshub's rugby reporter.

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