How to solve a problem like Jordie Barrett
Fullback, centre, wing? How do you solve a problem like Jordie Barrett? The young All Blacks ace has pinballed around the Hurricanes’ backline since making his senior debut in 2017. In a squad full to the tipping point with talented backs, where will/should the youngest of the Barrett brothers settle?
Jordie, 22, had New Zealand rugby all aflutter in 2017 following in the footsteps of older brother and All Black starting fly-half Beauden in wowing audiences with both a sparkling, silky smooth skillset and top-notch athleticism to match. At 6ft5”, Jordie is closer in height to the third capped Barrett brother, Crusaders lock Scott, who stands at 6ft6”, with Beauden coming in at 6ft2” as the smallest of the trio. No longer playing is the fourth and eldest brother, Kane; 6ft4”. The former Blues flanker was forced to retire in 2014 aged 23 following concussion issues.
While all of the brothers have flitted between positions – Scott and Kane at lock and flanker and Beauden at fly-half and fullback – Jordie seems to be facing a larger struggle when it comes to nailing down a spot in The Hurricanes XV, a surprise to many considering the trajectory expected by many in 2017.
Jordie made his name at inside centre whilst playing for the New Zealand u20 side, going on to impress at both club and senior international level at fullback; earning his chance under the watchful eye of Steve Hansen two years ago in the absence of the renowned Ben Smith.
Having faced both the mid-week, uncapped British and Irish Lions team in club colours and the full-blooded Test side during the famous draw of the series finale in 2017, it was assumed he would go on to make the Hurricanes' fifteen jersey his own whilst working towards succeeding Smith following the 32-year-old’s eventual retirement or move abroad to finish his career either in Japan or the Northern Hemisphere.
But, the potential Test star has been moved around the Canes’ backline with great regularity. In addition to time spent at fullback, Jordie has spent time playing alongside his brother in the midfield, and was most recently handed a run out on the right wing following the arrival of former Chiefs man Chase Tiatia. The off-season recruit has been flaunting the fast feet and top end speed that Jordie’s lock-like frame, for all its many talents, cannot match.
Players crave consistency in selection and while the experience Jordie will garner from playing across multiple positions, it is unclear where the Taranaki-born star will finally settle within the Hurricanes backline. Furthermore, his chances of securing a spot within the national setup are greatly diminished by flitting between jerseys and denied the ability to flog his wares to All Blacks selectors with any semblance of consistency.
Given that fact that Hansen saw it in his wisdom to start him in the fifteen jersey against the Lions aged just 20, fullback seems to be where his international future lies. With his towering frame, athleticism and a skill set that should be the envy of many a Northern Hemisphere fly-half, it makes sense for Jordie to settle in at fullback. But will he be able to do this at the Hurricanes?
All four Barrett brothers came through with the Chiefs’ former provincial Mitre10 Cup side Taranaki before the provincial team swapped allegiances to the Hurricanes in 2013. Like Scott, Jordie spent time playing for Canterbury – the Crusaders’ feeder side – but eventually made his switch to the Hurricanes in 2017, six years after Beauden has made his Super Rugby debut for the 2016 Champions.
With his link to both the Crusaders and the Chiefs, it is not inconceivable that Jordie could be tempted away from the Hurricanes with the promise of guaranteed game time at fifteen. With Damien McKenzie making his permanent switch to fly-half after making his name at fullback for the Chiefs, the presences of David Havili and promising 20-year-old Will Jordan at the Crusaders, the Chiefs would stand as a more attractive prospect for all involved.
Only the Irish rival New Zealand when it comes to the even distribution of talent across their club sides. While the Hurricanes would undoubtedly be against the prospect of losing one of their most talented players, they may face the risk of losing him by continuing their current selection policy as far as the nine-times capped 22-year-old is concerned.