The Hurricanes’ and All Blacks’ talismanic No 10 is heading north to Auckland in the biggest Super Rugby shift for a long time. Hurricanes true believer and NZ’s leading rugby fraternity authority Jamie Wall does his best to hold it together to analyse the move.
They say the first stage of grief is denial. That’s what Hurricanes fans have been living in ever since the NZ Herald’s Patrick McKendry broke the story exactly a month ago that the jewel in the crown of our team, Beauden Barrett, would be moving to the Blues.
“It makes no sense,” we laughed. “The Canes are due next year,” we firmly stated. “Does he not know how much a house costs in Auckland?” we cried, a hint of desperation in our voices.
Then, this morning, we got the news. He is leaving. He’s turning his back on the team of his father. He’s going to a team so desperate for help they’ve probably re-mortgaged Eden Park just to finance it.
Well Beauden and the Blues, the next stage of grief is anger, and you best believe that a lot of us have arrived at that pretty quickly this morning. The main reason being that the now confirmed move north has the potential to completely blow up the Hurricanes, but more on that later.
Finally, from a Blues perspective, they’ve finally filled the gigantic, Carlos Spencer-sized hole in their team that’s funnelled any chance of success out quicker than Beaudy’s intercept this season that saw them lose to the Canes. But the way they’ve done it speaks volumes about the state of the game in Auckland – the largest union in the country hasn’t been able to deliver a decent first five to the Blues for over a decade.
That’s not to say they haven’t been delivering them to other teams. It would’ve been particularly galling for anyone involved in Josh Ioane’s development to see him selected for the All Blacks last week, despite playing for Otago and the Highlanders for his senior career, the 24-year-old grew up in Auckland and attended the prestigious Kings College.
They had a false dawn with Harry Plummer, but he showed this year that he’s still a long way off being the sort of guy you can depend upon to win you Super Rugby games. The Blues already tried taking another one of the Canes’ first fives, Otere Black, but that hasn’t panned out to being anything useful because coach Leon MacDonald couldn’t decide between his metronomic game management or Plummer’s supposed game-breaking ability.
Some fans may well have moved on to the next stage of grief, which is bargaining. Barrett’s move to Auckland will admittedly be a huge shot in the arm for the game in New Zealand’s biggest city, which, like it or not, is crucial for rugby’s financial sustainability. Senior player numbers are dropping at the same rate as attendances to Blues games once it becomes obvious that they’ll once again miss the playoffs, and if Barrett’s presence can do anything to change both of those problems, it’s for the greater good.
That is said through extremely gritted teeth, though. Barrett leaving the Hurricanes may well signal the departure of brother Jordie, too, with the most logical scenario seeing him move south to link up with youngest brother Scott at the even-more loathed Crusaders. Jordie’s life of shuffling around the Canes backline like a vagrant hasn’t gone unnoticed, and his preferred position of second five is the one spot he’ll definitely not be locking down as long as Ngani Laumape is around. If the Canes do end up Barrett-less in 2020, Canes coach John Plumtree should probably face a few questions as to exactly how he let this happen.
Depression? Well we can skip the next stage of the process, because it’s one Canes fans are well acquainted with anyway. Following this team has involved watching them completely underachieve for most of their existence, and one of the two finals they’ve made was completely unwatchable anyway. Next year was all set up to be the one where the Canes could finally put an end to the Crusaders’ extended horrific reign of domination, who are being gutted with retirements, sabbaticals and the strong possibility that Scott Robertson will be getting a promotion to coach the All Blacks instead. God damn it, we were the ones who were going to be the heroes.
The last stage – acceptance. Well, that’s a fucking long way off, obviously. The Hurricanes hadn’t had anyone close to being a current All Black starting first five (sorry David Holwell and Mal Arnold – not sorry Jimmy Gopperth), and probably won’t again for the foreseeable future. Yes, we still have Ardie and TJ, the undying support of John Campbell (someone please send an ambulance to his house straight away) and the best team song in the competition.
But now we don’t have the one thing we could laud over everyone else. We don’t have Beaudy.
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