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.

Sunday News - - OPINION -

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.

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