Barrett wary of French flair
Trust Beauden Barrett to sift the positivity out of the most pessimistic view of French rugby.
The brilliant All Blacks No 10, perhaps still searching for a signature performance in 2017, was guest of honour at what might have been the French rugby team’s wake in Paris this week. Local rugby hacks peppered him with questions on the youth and inexperience of his opponents at Stade de France tomorrow, and you halfexpected them to ask if he felt sorry for the proverbial lambs to the slaughter.
Barrett, of course, was having none of the negativity. Where the scribblers saw a team greener than Kermit and with all the prospects of a turkey at Christmas, the best No 10 on the planet had an altogether different viewpoint.
Barrett and his All Blacks halves partner Aaron Smith have
127 caps between them. Opposite them, 20-year-old Toulouse halfback Antoine Dupont and 21-yearold Toulon flyhalf Anthony Belleau have three (all held by Dupont, off the bench).
"A French side when they have no expectations on them tends to turn up and play well." Steve Hansen
‘‘They’re exciting players,’’ declared Barrett, eyes aglow. ‘‘We’re aware of their strengths, and also their weaknesses. It’s good for them to introduce new players to the game and give them opportunities at this level.’’
Asked his advice for the 1.77m,
88kg Belleau, Barrett smiled. ‘‘He must be doing things pretty well if he’s getting his opportunity. It’s up to you to find your own way. You can only learn from the experience and there’s nothing better than starting for your national side and being thrown onto the big stage.’’
On paper the French, who have lost 10 straight and 17 of their last
19 against the All Blacks, don’t stand a chance. They have just four survivors (forwards Guilhem Guirado, Se´bastien Vahaamahina, Kevin Gourdon and Louis Picamoles) from last year’s clash, a quartet of debutants, five backs with five tests or less experience and a halves pairing with an average age of 20.5.
But Barrett remembers last year’s 24-19 struggle – ‘‘It was very physical. The French like to come out with almost that bully mentality’’ – and reminds us they’re the best offloading team in international rugby, and in the top three for possession.
‘‘Our defence has to get on top of that early, and not allow them to get that tempo and build those phases they like.’’
The All Blacks are coming off their sloppiest performance of the
year. You get the feeling they’re not about to repeat that mistake for the first test of a tour they’re viewing as a launching pad.
And coach Steve Hansen reminded us that depletion was a
‘‘Both teams are trying to find their feet without experienced guys. A French side when they have no expectations on them tends to turn up and play well, and play with excitement and enthusiasm.’’
Props Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala will be keen to measure themselves against a gnarly French front row, and lock Luke
Romano, flanker Vaea Fifita, wing Waisake Naholo and fullback Damian McKenzie are all still proving themselves as fully fledged starters.
Throw in the Brisbane banana
skin and the pressure created by Hansen’s carefully structured November peak plan, and you have a night when the All Blacks, as well as Les Bleus, have a lot to play for.