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Five reasons why Hansen’s Scott Barrett surprise could be a master stroke

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Roar Guru
24th October, 2019
1724 Reads

You’ve got to hand it to Steve Hansen for his shock move to start Scott Barrett at blindside for the crunch World Cup semi-final against England.

The All Blacks gaffer sprung a surprise on his opposite Eddie Jones and almost everyone in the rugby world by relegating highly-rated and well-performing incumbent openside Sam Cane to the bench to make way for Barrett’s first Test start in the number six jersey.

But it really does seem like a good move, on a number of levels.

First, it puts meticulous Jones in quick catch-up mode to modify the detail in his notoriously well-laid plans to deal with the change. This will force him into unwelcome territory to adjust to the unexpected move.

You imagine his Cheshire cat grin would have, at least momentarily, disappeared when he heard the news – maybe replaced by a wry one.

Eddie Jones head coach of England

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

At the heady level of a World Cup semi-final that’s worthy of a final between the two best teams in the world, tiny percentages are everything. That little psychological win could prove hugely beneficial to the defending champs.

Second, and relatedly, it is a sudden pivot away from Hansen’s tactic of selecting a fast, lighter-weight back row for the quick conditions that prevail in Japan. This tactic has actually been adopted by Jones with his Kamikaze Kids Sam Underhill and Tom Curry on the flanks.


Scott Barrett at six throws that whole system into question.

As cocky and chirpy as he is, Jones won’t help but second-guess himself now.

Third, it beefs up the All Blacks pack in a match where the challenge posed by England up front will be immense.

The Crusader Barrett has the silky skills, sensibility and athletic ability of his ridiculously gifted brothers. The key counterpoint to his siblings for the man they call Dogroll is that all that deftness is wrapped up in a big, bruising second-rower’s body.

He’s some handful, as he proved when he came on to replace Cane in the quarter-final against the hapless Irish last weekend.

He is big and tough on the collision in attack and defence, has an urgent work rate and is imperious in the air, whether it be line out or kick reception.

At one point he was so incredulous at managing to knock on in a line out trying to grab an overthrow he could do nothing other than beam a big smile. And the error was more than made up for when at one point he pulled down an Irish 22-metre kick, seemingly from the roof of the enclosed stadium.


And he’s a workaholic with a willingness to throw that big rig around as befitting the tough Taranaki farming stock he’s from. Not to mention his unique situation as one of the elite players in the world game at the same time as being an also-ran in his own family. He’ll always be out to prove a point.

Scott Jordie Beauden Barrett New Zealand Rugby Union All Blacks 2017

(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Hansen marvelled at his good fortune at being able to have a player like Scott Barrett on the bench, a walk-up start for virtually any other team on the planet.

Also, his selection enables another big, athletic body – Patrick Tuipulotu – to shift onto the bench as lock cover.

It means the All Blacks are much better equipped to go toe-to-toe against the English if the do-or-die match descends into trench warfare, while losing little if the men in black are able to dictate terms with their high-tempo game.

Fourth, it enables the best forward in the world, Ardie Savea, to play in his natural position at seven. This is where he’ll likely get his eager hands on the ball more than if he had started at six, giving him more scope to pump those legs into England’s defensive effort.


Fifth, Cane – the man long ago anointed as Richie McCaw’s successor in the cherished black seven jersey – is still in the mix.

Although he’ll never say as much, he will be seething at being dropped to the bench. But the good news for him, and potentially his team, is that he will be granted upwards of half an hour to prove the injustice of it all and unleash his frustration via a short, sharp, muscular shift when it matters most at the game’s pointy end.

From this distance, it looks like yet another solid move from the coach of the defending world champions.

But luckily for all of us there’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion at this rarefied sporting level.