Beauden Barrett is bad at kicking, but there’s no rule saying he has to keep doing it. Why can’t his teammates step up?
The Hurricanes lost to the Chiefs on Saturday in what is being called one of the better games this Super Rugby season – I was there and do not agree. Beauden Barrett played well. He scored a try, assisted a try, and had three line breaks. The downside? He kicked horrendously. Barrett converted one of six attempts at goal, leaving 13 points hanging in a one-point loss. For one of the current favourites to be the starting All Black first five, kicking one from six is not great. Many people have pointed this frankly huge weakness out in the 48 hours since Barrett failed to convert two attempts from 20 metres out and not 15 to the left of centre. It’s an issue that he needs to address. Steve Hansen will need to keep this in mind.
All good points that somehow involve no real blame being put on Beauden Barrett, or anyone else for that matter. Yes, Barrett sometimes can’t kick to save his life, let alone a game of rugby. So who is to blame?
Everyone else on the Hurricanes roster.
The beauty of playing a team sport is that not only are you competing against your opposition, you are constantly competing with your own team mates for a spot on the field. A reserve prop might spend an extra day in the gym, a reserve winger might do one more set of sprints, and a reserve fullback might take one more practice high ball, all in the quest to take the starting role in their position. Every training and game is a competition between team-mates.
So how the hell is Beauden Barrett even allowed to kick? If somebody can’t catch, don’t pass them the ball. If somebody can’t tackle, don’t let them play rugby. And if somebody can’t kick at goal, don’t let them kick at goal. The fact that he is still allowed to kick one from six attempts means that he is still somehow the best kicker in the Hurricanes squad. Nobody else has put their hand up and said “Hey, I can kick a ball through the posts better than that, let me do it.”
There is no rule that the first five has to kick at goal. Cruden didn’t kick, or do much else really, on Saturday. In fact, one of the most memorable goal kicks in history came from the boot of Wallabies lock, John Eales, to win the 2000 Bledisloe Cup. Goal kicking is a skill isolated from any position, though it is assumed that the touch-kicking first five should be the best player for the job. So when that first five who kicks for touch is unable to kick at goal, the responsibility falls to someone else.
In a squad of 39 players, surely one other Hurricane can kick at goal. And if they can’t, then they cannot put the blame on Barrett for simply being the best of the worst. At least have a decent search for a more reliable kicker in the squad. Beauden Barrett kicking poorly is as much a reflection of the Hurricanes’ complacency as it is of Barrett’s inconsistency.
There is obviously no question of replacing Barrett. There are more than enough reasons he is a starting All Black contender. No one else, particularly in the Hurricanes squad, can challenge him on his spatial awareness and his tactical skills. But they can challenge him on his kicking. And they should.