Barrett selection a big hint at line-out plan
Hansen relegates Cane to bench after recalling Twickenham game, says Daniel Schofield in Tokyo
Steve Hansen is a master in the art of the understatement. Asked whether Scott Barrett’s impact off the bench against England last year at Twickenham influenced his selection for tomorrow’s semi-final, the New Zealand head coach replied drolly: “It had a wee bit to do with it.”
Rest assured, that performance will have figured front and centre of Hansen’s thoughts. This is Barrett’s first start at blindside flanker. His previous 16 came in the second row. Last year, however, he was a decisive influence when coming on as a back-row replacement against England, providing the All Blacks with a fourth jumper in the line-out.
England ended up losing five of their own throws, reducing their line-out percentage to 67, the worst of the entire Eddie Jones era. In August, head coach Jones seemed to suggest that he would be forced to change the composition of his back row if they faced the All Blacks in the World Cup.
“We played New Zealand in November and they schooled us in the second half in the line-out,” Jones said. “They had Barrett, [Kieran] Read, [Sam] Whitelock, [Brodie] Retallick and we couldn’t win the ball. Against New Zealand, we have to have a jumping back-rower.”
Yet Jones has kept the same back row of Tom Curry – whose line-out jumping has improved significantly – Sam Underhill and Billy Vunipola that has served him so well in the tournament. Meanwhile, New Zealand will start with the same loose-forward combination that completed their 16-15 victory at Twickenham. Coincidence? No chance, particularly as Hansen
failed to provide a full explanation for Sam Cane’s demotion to the replacement bench.
“[The selection] is strategic, not on form, because Sam has been playing lovely rugby,” Hansen said. “However, we have made some decisions on what we want to do and how we want to play. The obvious thing [Barrett brings] is that he’s a line-out forward. So, that adds to our ball-carrying ability.”
As Hansen indicated, Barrett, who replaced Cane at half-time of New Zealand’s 46-14 quarter-final victory against Ireland, is more than a mere jumper. Cane’s main attribute is his defensive stopping power, which places an even greater emphasis on Retallick, only just back from injury, to set the physical tone for the All Blacks.
It also means for the second successive knockout game, New Zealand have all three Barrett brothers in their squad – Scott, Beauden, who starts at full-back, and Jordie, who is on the bench. The trio were offered the opportunity to return to New Zealand for the funeral of their grandfather, Ted, on the Wednesday before the quarterfinal against Ireland. They declined but their father, Kevin, returned in time to watch his sons play.
“Last week was a tough week for him and for ourselves, so it was awesome to share that moment with him and for him to be over supporting us,” Beauden said.
While there are many sets of brothers playing in international rugby, few are as versatile as the Barretts, who can cover anywhere outside the front row.
For the first time since they were children, Scott is rooming with Beauden this week before the biggest game of their careers. “He’s a bit bigger since the top bunk he slept in. He probably wouldn’t fit it any more,” Beauden said.
“It’s great to room with him. He’s clearly got his rugby cap on because the other night he was sleep-talking and was calling out the line-out moves.”
Reach for the sky: England’s Brad Shields (top) and All Black Scott Barrett contest a line-out at Twickenham last November