Barrett is pure Taranaki gold to the All Blacks
What you see is what you get with the stand-in All Blacks skipper who grew up on the farm.
No wonder All Black rugby is embracing Beauden Barrett. Barrett captaining the All Blacks this morning is a reflection of just how highly the 26-yearold is regarded by Steve Hansen and his coaching team.
The great Dan Carter wasn’t named as a captain (for the 2011 World Cup test with Canada) until he was 29. Barrett had never captained a team at any level until today. Yet it feels like a case of right man, right time.
This year the game’s had to deal with embarrassing disclosures (think the Aaron Smith investigation, the Jerome Kaino revelations), without a spotless record on the field to wipe away any off-field stigmas.
But if a team of Parnell public relations people were locked away for a weekend with a crate of pinot gris they could not invent a better representation of what Kiwis want an All Black to be than Beauden Barrett.
His abilities on the field are, of course, extraordinary. But perhaps just as remarkable is that, like his whole family, there’s there appears to be nothing artificial or calculated about Barrett as a person.
The Biblical phrase in which Jesus declares, ‘‘No prophet is accepted in his hometown’’, is overturned when you talk to locals in Taranaki about the Barretts. In the Naki they love them all.
Stories abound of the Barretts, many so grounded they recall an earlier age, when the basics of rural life, hard work and commonsense, were reflected in the farmers who provided the backbone of the All Blacks, men like Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, Graham Mourie, and Dave Loveridge.
Their father Kevin, was a tireless, hard-edged lock in 167 games for Taranaki, whose nickname was Smiley. Quizzed this week, three men who played with him basically said he was called ‘‘Smiley’’ because ‘‘The Enforcer Who Wears A Happy Expression When He’s Doling Out Summary Justice On The Field’’ was too cumbersome to use in conversation.
There are the stories of how, as the kids were growing up, they were all expected to provide a hand in the cow shed on the family farm in Pungarehu, on the Surf Highway between Okato and Opunake. How mother Robyn, herself an outstanding basketball player and all-round sportswoman, would meet a 10-year-old Beauden and his brothers at the primary school gate, take their bags in the car, and then watch them run the 3.5km home in bare feet, racing the school bus.
In sport today image makers are everywhere. When he was about to rocket onto the world stage Tiger Woods gave an obscenity laced interview to an American magazine, which, years later, after a deluge of closely monitored puff pieces, we’d discover actually reflected the real man.
Closer to home new All Blacks automatically receive media training. In the week before a test match they’ll be sent to clothing stores, schools, and hospitals to burnish public perceptions.
Reality can become blurred, so let me tell a true story about Beauden Barrett that reveals a lot about his character, and has the advantage of not being buffed up by media caretakers.
Last year, in a break between test matches, Barrett was driving past the local primary school, Rahotu, out on the coast.
The kids were all outside, practising for a kapa haka competition. Barrett, whose two younger sisters were then at the school, GETTY IMAGES pulled up and went to see the principal, Brigitte Luke. Nothing had been arranged. She takes up the story.
‘‘He (Barrett) watched them doing the haka, and then they started asking him questions. ‘What’s it like doing the haka in the All Blacks?’ and then it moved on to ‘How many Weet-Bix can you eat?’
‘‘He laughed, and said, ‘four.’ He asked if they’d like to play a game of touch. So we had all 120 kids and him playing a huge all-in game. You know that cross kick he does? He was doing that and some of them were able to catch the ball.
‘‘Is he really so down to earth and humble? Absolutely. He offered to sign some autographs. There wasn’t one kid who left without his name signed on a forehead, a lunchbox, or on their gumboots.’’
I have 78 first cousins, many of them farmers, and my Dad was a farmer. For years it’s been my belief that intelligent, thoughtful farmers stand in the first rank of practical, hard working, decent Kiwis. With Beauden Barrett, and his brothers, rugby has been lucky enough to strike that particular vein of New Zealand gold.
Stand-in All Blacks captain Beauden Barrett talks to the press at Twickenham on Friday.
A baby-faced Beauden in 2012.