36 Beauden Barrett [2012-] CAPS 53
Beauden Barrett still has an enormous amount of rugby ahead of him. His legacy is nowhere near built and yet, he’s still managed to be an enormous influence in the last six years.
Barrett came into the All Blacks squad in 2012 when he had just turned 21 and was still a relatively unknown quantity.
He was a first-five who had the speed and skills to also play at fullback and, because he possessed such a wide portfolio, he became the perfect man to pick on the bench.
What also strengthened Barrett’s case to play o the bench was his phenomenal ability to make an impact when he came on.
Between 2013 and 2015, there were innumerable tests that were decided by the influence of Barrett.
The most famous was his performance at Ellis Park in 2013 when he scored a miracle try with his first touch and then chased back close to 100 metres to tackle Willie le Roux. It was an epic game and an epic contribution from Barrett.
There were many others. He was the master at doing something, anything, to change the momentum of the game late in the piece either from fullback or first-five.
Against Wales in 2014 he produced an amazing chip-chase try that showcased his pace, awareness, agility and skills.
It was entirely fitting that it was Barrett who scored the last try in the 2015 World Cup final.
That was reward for all his cameo e orts and a landmark moment that would remind everyone of what an incredible influence he had been, and it also acted as notice that he was ready to play a bigger role in 2016 following the departure of Daniel Carter.
That opportunity duly came when he was able to establish himself at first-five and help the All Blacks win 18 consecutive victories and take their game to incredible levels.
Barrett finished the 2016 season as World Rugby Player of the Year – an acknowledgement that he had become the most influential player on the planet.
“I guess it was the confidence I got from the chance to drive the team,” Barrett says. “Steve [Hansen] and Fozzy [Ian Foster] believed in me, which certainly helped. On the field, I just tried not to overthink things. I take a laid-back approach to a lot of things in life and, at the end of the day, rugby’s just a game. If you overthink things, you end up doing things without the right reasons in mind.
“The great thing about this team is that we’re not conservative. We’re encouraged to put ourselves under pressure and deliver plays. It’s great.”