It wasn’t just the All Blacks pack who rolled their sleeves up and left their imprint all over Eden Park on a memorable Saturday night. Jordie Barrett did something vividly similar from the highly unfamiliar position of second five-eighths.
It was Barrett’s 45th test at Fortress Eden on Saturday, but his first wearing the No 12 jersey as the All Blacks made it three wins on the trot and nailed an eighth Rugby Championship with a 40-14 victory over the Wallabies that ticked all kinds of boxes.
Up there somewhere was the arrival of the younger of the All Blacks’ three Barrett brothers as a No 12 of true international quality, and legitimate option to team with Rieko Ioane in a midfield of formidable dimensions, and quality, as this team builds towards the 2023 World Cup in France.
After the game Foster termed it a “phenomenal” performance and on Sunday he backed that up with equally fulsome praise when asked if his supersized midfield had given him something to ponder.
“Like everything, it’s all about timing,” said Foster. “He’s deserved his chance to go in there, and what a great athlete really. He’s played well for us at fullback and on the wing, and now he’s played really well at 12. Certainly he had a big impact last night and there is plenty to think about.”
Barrett, a humble type as we well know, after the game shrugged off the ramifications of his performance at No 12 in a mostly positive All Blacks performance.
But he conceded he enjoyed the head-on nature of the defence, and the physicality on the carry. His proficiency at both did not elude anyone’s attention.
“I took that personally this week,” he said of the defence. “I knew that’s where the traffic was going to come. They have some big ball-carriers and if they can get ascendancy and gain-line it bleeds out to the rest of their game. I knew if we knocked it on the head there we could bring their game to a bit of a halt.”
He also enjoyed laying on some go-forward of his own, even if he conceded he was already feeling the increased physicality of the role post-match. “Rugby hasn’t changed – if you can get some gain-line off set piece and I guess nullify it on the other side of the ball, you go a long way to winning a match,” he said.
Most importantly, though, was the chance to be part of a pretty emphatic response to the very close-run Melbourne misfire of nine days earlier, where the All Blacks were well aware they got out of jail with their 39-37 last-gasp triumph.
“We weren’t too proud of our last quarter last week and in some ways we were lucky to get a result,” he said of Bledisloe I, saved by his match-winning try at the death. “It could have gone in a different direction, and we knew coming back to Eden Park we wanted to put on a performance that our fans and New Zealand could be proud of. Consistency is important. It’s what we strive for every day as All Blacks. The last few months haven’t been up to standard, but I think we’re heading in the right direction now.”
At the heart of an impressive All Blacks pack – three of their five tries came from a witheringly efficient driving maul – it was also heartening to see experienced hooker Codie Taylor leave behind his Christchurch meltdown against Argentina with an emphatic response in his first game since.
Taylor was much more on point with his lineout throwing, got stuck in around the field and nailed one try in a confidence-boosting performance.
“A lot of work goes into defending mauls and also trying to score from them,” he noted afterwards. “The northern teams are really good at it, and with Jason [Ryan] there, he drives the detail really well. It’s not all his magic – he does pull things from other teams. That’s how you get better. You can’t pretend other teams aren’t doing it better than you.”