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How Jordie Barrett Evolved from Young Choker to the World's Best Fullback

Written by Max Sharp.

Many have written about the "rugby-mad" Barrett family, spearheaded by former Hurricanes and Taranaki player Kevin "Smiley" Barrett. As the 33rd Hurricane, the 1.94m forward played 15 games for the team until retiring in 1999, aged 33. Barrett retired with 167 caps for Taranaki and to this day he is the union's most-capped player, behind the Slater brothers and now-Italy coach, Kieran Crowley.

The now 56-year-old can still be found frequently at rugby games however, thanks to his family continuing his success in the sport. My wife attended high school with his three daughters, while the Barrett family also produced five sons.

Kane, a flanker, was the first to make the big leagues, playing three games for the Blues, though he unfortunately had to retire from the professional level at just 24 due to concussion. Beauden was next-in-line, sneaking into the 2015 Rugby World Cup's playoffs bench after injury to Aaron Cruden. Beaudy was able to dethrone Cruden as the first-choice after Dan Carter's retirement and has since earned 100 test caps covering first-five and fullback.

Blake Barrett has surpassed 100 games for their local club, Coastal Rugby and Sports, while Scott Barrett burst onto the scene in 2016, making a huge difference in his long-awaited test debut, which had felt inevitable throughout the season. Scott has since reached 50 tests and is the Crusaders' captain. While Scott was on his way to stardom, Jordan "Jordie" Barrett, the youngest brother, was in the All Blacks' squad as a non-playing apprentice, aged just 19.

After waiting in the shadows, what was to expect from Jordie Barrett? Let's recount the evolution of his test career, as he has risen to be a greater player, than any of his brothers.

Jordie Barrett (second-to-left), Scott Barrett (centre-left) and Beauden Barrett (centre-right) prepare to sing the national anthem together. Photo: Max Sharp.

2016 - U20's and Canterbury

The "Baby Blacks" placed fifth at the 2016 World Rugby Under 20 Championship, while the host nation of England won. Jordie Barrett wore the 12 jersey, with Peter Umaga-Jensen as his midfield partner from 13. While Asafo Aumua, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papali'i, Stephen Perofeta and Jonathan Taumateine have all gone on to feature in test rugby, the player who impressed the most, was Barrett, who was able to score 76 points for the team that year.

With his brother Beauden lighting up Super Rugby, Barrett, who would still be eligible for the U20's side in 2017, was hyped up significantly by the press. This was perhaps rightfully so, Scott Robertson, the U20's coach, was also in charge of Canterbury and bought Barrett (then studying at Lincoln University) in for a debut. Scoring 123 points in his 12 games, Barrett was chosen as goal-kicker over Richie Mo'unga, as Canterbury won their third title from four years with Robertson as the coach.

Richie Mo'unga (pictured in 2019 for the Crusaders) has played with Jordie Barrett since 2016 with Canterbury. Photo: Max Sharp.

With the future looking promising for Barrett, who went on the All Blacks' 2016 end-of-year tour as a non-playing apprentice, the Hurricanes signed him for 2017, Barrett would be joining his older brother Beauden in Wellington. He won Age Grade Player of the Year at the New Zealand Rugby Awards, to conclude the 2016 season.

2017 - Hurricanes and All Blacks debut

Barrett made his debut for the Hurricanes at fullback in the first round of the 2017 Super Rugby season, aged just 20. With Nehe Milner-Skudder still suffering ongoing complications from a shoulder injury that ruled him out for 2016, Barrett, who was 1.96m but still just 96kg, found a home at the back of the pitch for this game and though his communication was looking good, a sign he perhaps wasn't ready came through as he missed a tackle in the lead-up to the Sunwolves scoring; though the final score eventually ended as 83-17. 2016's World Player of the Year, Beauden Barrett, now had two brothers joining him in Super Rugby.

Beauden Barrett converts a try against Australia at Westpac Stadium, 2016. Photo: Max Sharp.

Having become a regular starter throughout the season, with Milner-Skudder's injury still causing trouble, Barrett ended up withdrawing from selection for the New Zealand U20's, so he could face the British and Irish Lions with the Hurricanes. Ahead of the Lions tour however, we saw Barrett selected for the All Blacks as Steve Hansen opted to drop Damian McKenzie.

Barrett made his test debut off the bench for the All Blacks, against Samoa. Though he did not get to share the field with his brother Beauden, who clocked up his 50th test, he did get to share the field with Scott. Barrett managed to run 39 metres from 5 carries in 18 minutes after replacing then-captain, Ben Smith; sharing a test debut with his Hurricanes teammate, Vaea Fifita.

With Barrett commanding just 18 minutes of test rugby on his CV ahead of the Lions tests, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith were preferred for the first two tests. Barrett's experience against the Lions in the Hurricanes' 31-31 draw however, was a good one, as Barrett ran 132 metres and beat 3 defenders off 16 carries, while delivering 21 passes and 2 offloads. With three players ruled out for the third test of the tour; to decide the series winner, we saw Israel Dagg move back to wing and Barrett start at fullback

Though the third Lions test saw Barrett run 67 metres and make 3 clean breaks as he scored a try and set one up for Ngani Laumape, the pressure built. With the scores level in the 59th minute, the pressure got to Barrett and he choked as his brother's lack of kicking accuracy kept the Lions within reach of the win. With Owen Farrell's nerves of steel stepping up, the series ended in a draw. We also saw Barrett find the pressure tough in the 2017 Super Rugby semi-final, at Ellis Park, against a different Lions side.

Many looked forward to Barrett improving on what he'd built, though this didn't eventuate as he had to sit the rest of the season out with shoulder surgery.

2018-2020 - Utility Value and Rugby World Cup

Barrett found his way back into the All Blacks for 2018; participating in all three tests in the mid-year series against France. Though he missed games against Argentina, he mysteriously found himself named in a big test, to face South Africa in Wellington. Though he scored the opening try, this match was a shocker for Barrett, who gifted a try to Willie le Roux off a quick throw-in. He was replaced by Damian McKenzie with 22 minutes left and did not play in the rest of the Rugby Championship.

A match against Italy proved crucial for his World Cup chances however, the full 80 in the 14 jersey saw Barrett score 4 tries as he won Player of the Match. Having earned gametime at Super Rugby from jerseys 12, 13 and 14, a full 80 playing at left wing to begin the 2019 season, against Argentina, saw Barrett play another 7 tests in 2019.

Jordie Barrett waits for ball from the right wing against the Crusaders in 2019. Photo: Max Sharp.

This included starting at 10 against Namibia at the World Cup pool stages, while he also came off the bench in all three tests of the knock-out stages, including the loss to England in the semi-final.

Ben Smith's retirement and Ian Foster's dual playmaker system with Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo'unga at first-five then saw Barrett become the first-choice at right wing. Having improved significantly on defence, Barrett could now be trusted to start at test level. Though he played in all 6 tests during the pandemic-shortened season, many called for his axing, citing the need to find a specialist fullback and specialist winger.

2021 - Stepping Up

This season was to be Jordie Barrett's second with the Hurricanes without Beauden as a teammate. This season was something different, as he proved an all-round skillset in a struggling team that finished last in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Max Sharp meets Jordie Barrett at the end of a Hurricanes fixture, 2021.

Though Richie Mo'unga and Damian McKenzie proved themselves as Ian Foster's initial first-choice 10-15 axis, Mo'unga's paternity leave paved the way for Beauden's return as the first-choice 10 during the 2021 Rugby Championship which was almost entirely hosted in Australia. Problematic goal-kicking throughout Beauden's career however, allowed the in-form Jordie to start at fullback in Perth against Australia (though he was wrongfully red-carded in this one), as well as both tests against Argentina.

At last, the big tests of the Foster era finally arrived, as the All Blacks and Springboks met for their 100th test against each other, 100 years after their first test against each other. Barrett, having had an awful performance in his only previous test against South Africa, was determined to showcase his evolution as a player. This test match was a grind, with constant lead changes throughout the match, thanks to South Africa's 10 turnovers throughout the match. Their kicking game however, was voided, with Barrett diffusing every high ball, as he also ran 55 metres and beat 4 defenders from 12 carries.

With the All Blacks behind by 16-17 with just 7 minutes left, South Africa looked to seal the deal, but Barrett turned up to contest the high ball, forcing the knock-on. With Hoskins Sotutu springing a surprise kick, South Africa had to start back in their own half. This did not faze a powerful Boks pack however, as they regenerated. Barrett turned up again in the 75th minute however, to charge up before passing to his brother Beauden, as the commentators said "this is when the big players have to stand up".

These big players weren't the Beauden Barretts, Brodie Retallicks or Brad Webers though, just seconds later, it was Hoskins Sotutu kicking the ball back into open space, then forcing Willie le Roux's kick to find touch inside South Africa's 22m line.

The next generation of great players were the ones standing up, as South Africa won the ball back to try and regenerate the attack, reserve winger Quinn Tupaea pounced on the ball to win the turnover, biceps gripping it tighter than the wrap of a boa constrictor.

One more thing had to be done to win the game though, score the points. Jordie Barrett stepped forward to take the tee straight away, with the confidence his younger self never had back in Westpac Stadium during his 2018 shocker.

It was in this moment in Townsville, where the baby brother from rural Taranaki, with huge weight on his shoulders from day one, stood as a gigantic man from 50 metres out from the posts. Unfazed by the booing crowd, his massive boot rose to the occasion, as he won the game for his country with just 2 minutes left. It was in this moment that Jordie Barrett put the icing on the cake, to show his days of choking were behind him, that he was the world's best fullback and that he was a better player than his father or brothers were, or will ever be.

Barrett finished the 2021 season with another 13 test caps added to his tally, cementing his place as the All Blacks' first-choice fullback.

Jordie Barrett was selected at 15 for The Black Jersey's 2021 World XV.

2022 - A move to midfield?

Despite Barrett's well-documented coming-out-of-his brothers' shadows, the Hurricanes revived a default issue of trying to fit plenty of classy backs into their lineup, while lacking the tight-five to provide the grunt up-front.

While Barrett won the award for the Hurricanes' Player of the Year in 2022, he found himself moving to the 12 jersey on six occasions during 2022, with the winner of Rookie of the Year, Josh Moorby, proving a lethal attacking option from fullback. Moorby, still aged 24, has since re-signed to 2024, so is a possible future All Black, having made his Māori All Blacks debut against Ireland.

Jordie Barrett, ahead of his first match at 12 for 2022, discusses the game plan while warming up with the other Hurricanes backs. Photo: Max Sharp.

Plenty of fans were raving about Barrett at 12, promoting him as the All Blacks' best option for the jersey, having developed misinformed opinions over the current midfield options. Ian Foster refused to move Barrett to 12 and started him in all of the first 8 tests of 2022 during a struggle of a season.

However, emergency was stricken as David Havili was subbed off against Australia in Melbourne, with a concussion. Before the first half had ended, Havili's replacement, Quinn Tupaea, was also substituted with a knee injury that has since ruled him out for 9 months. In the worst-case scenario, Foster indeed played Barrett at 12, as his brother Beauden came off the bench for Tupaea and moved to 15.

With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck having played just 11 minutes of test rugby prior to the 2022 Rugby Championship-deciding Eden Park clash, Barrett instead started at 12. This doesn't bode well for Tuivasa-Sheck's future as an All Black, as the return of Anton Lienert-Brown would be the injury cover for Havili next time. However, if Havili and Lienert-Brown are both injured during 2023, it should indeed be Barrett moving from the first-choice 15, to the third-choice 12.

Jordie Barrett lines up a kick at goal at Eden Park against Ireland, 2022. Photo: Max Sharp.

In the Championship decider, he won Player of the Match, with 81 metres and 7 defenders beaten off 17 carries, while he distributed 9 passes, 4 offloads, then made 8/8 tackles and made 1 turnover. However, the depth charts for the team's spine are huge for winning World Cups.

In 2015's Rugby World Cup, Dane Coles (hooker), Kieran Read (number 8), Aaron Smith (halfback) and Dan Carter (first-five), had all played the most minutes in their respective positions from 2012-2015 and lead the depth charts for their jerseys. Their positions in the depth chart directly determined their place in the pecking order, the only exception was Ben Smith starting at fullback in place of Israel Dagg, who didn't recover to full form after injury.

The depth charts determined the starters in the team's spine for 2019 as well, with Codie Taylor at hooker, Kieran Read at number 8 and Aaron Smith at halfback. Beauden Barrett lead the 10 depth chart, so moving him to 15 wasn't an issue as he remained part of the team's spine for 2019; the only change to the 2019 spine pecking order was Richie Mo'unga in for Ben Smith, who remained part of the World Cup squad.

With Barrett commanding a massive 53% of minutes at fullback from 2020-22, the likelihood is that he will remain the world's first-choice fullback for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

However, there is a genuine possibility that Barrett breaks the mold for outside backs playing their last test in their 20's. The two teenage prodigies, Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane, who were first called into the All Blacks in 2016, could become a brilliant midfield combo post-2023 and continue their careers to either the 2029 Lions tour, or 2031 Rugby World Cup, they're genuinely young enough.

What we saw at the conclusion of the Rugby Championship, will not be Barrett's immediate future, but this was indeed an insight, into the youngest brother of a Taranaki family and his long-term playing future. He's lived up to the family name, with the youth to break numerous records in the future.

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