Beauden Barrett looks on his eventual recovery from a two-and-a-half-month concussion haze to begin his comeback this season.
Barrett will start at No. 10 for the Blues for the first time in two years against the Highlanders on Friday night in Albany, but only after overcoming lingering concussion symptoms that he fought throughout the summer, leaving him with a deeper appreciation for this next stage of his career.
Barrett has only had one significant injury in 101 tests, a grade-two knee-ligament strain that sidelined him for five weeks in 2015. Dealing with a concussion is an altogether different beast.
“It was extremely challenging,” Barrett says. “The hardest thing about this one was not finding the cure. That’s the million-dollar question with a lot of these concussions. It was frustrating.
“Typically the December-January months are the festive fun times where you decompress and spend time with friends and family. I did that, but it was annoying with a headache all the time.”
Barrett last played for the All Blacks against Ireland in Dublin on November 14, when he suffered a severe knock to the head in a front-on tackle. He returned off the bench for the Blues last week after sitting out their opening loss against the Hurricanes. He missed the year’s last test in Paris and struggled with symptoms after returning home.
Those symptoms led him to fear the worst — that his career could be cut short.
“I’m well aware of how concussion can lead to retirement if it doesn’t work out. Kane, my brother, had to give up his career because of it. I see plenty of good friends and team-mates have done the same in the past.
“I tried to stay positive — I’m usually a very optimistic person. I was trying to find alternative ways to get on top of things, and I did that.
“It’s probably the closest I’ve been to retirement and I certainly wasn’t ready for it. I’m only 30, and I’ve still got plenty to give. Being back fit and healthy, I’m grateful to be here now and hopefully contribute well to the Blues this season.”
Barrett had to wait for the Blues to set up camp in the Queenstown bubble in early February before returning to training. Even then, his month-long small steps through contact growth were fraught with difficulties.
“Throughout that I was still suffering symptoms but I was able to pinpoint where they were coming from and it was my neck. That was reassuring to know it wasn’t a concussion symptom so I could fully trust that and work towards returning to play knowing if I got on top of my neck, my headaches would go away. That got me excited and I had a plan to return against the Chiefs or Highlanders.”
“I’m always trying to get better as a player but I was just enjoying my footy and embracing the tour. Anytime we got the chance to express ourselves I tried to do that.
“I try to go out there with a smile on my face and that’s what I’ll be doing. It’s a privileged position I’m in. I’ve still got time to improve and leave my mark on the game. I want to inspire the next generation and be that guy kids look up to and want to play like — that’s expansive entertaining rugby and having fun out there.”