Recently, there was talk about whether Beauden Barrett should shift to flyhalf for the All Blacks and Richie Mo’unga be benched. We saw him fielded there against the Wallabies in Bledisloe 4 and his performance was something worth chewing over.
Prior to this match, many claimed Mo’unga was reliant on a rolling forward pack and that Barrett was twice the player.
Is this true or is this just media criticism?
Barrett’s performance in Bledisloe 4 tells us a lot about it.
During the game, New Zealand lost prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi to a red card, forcing them to bench heavyweight blindside flanker Akira Ioane which took out quite a lot of forward power.
Instead of being dismantled like in 2019 by the English pack, the All Blacks scrum was stagnant and was not making progress. As such, the platform for the backs was not as good.
Let us consider how Barrett performed under these circumstances.
Attempting to play a more traditional style of rugby, Barrett played flat with the ball in hand. His good distribution hit the line, but the Wallabies faced him with a solid and physical advancing defensive line. He hardly created major strike plays.
His tactical kicking was generally good and the line kicking was rock-solid. However, there was one botched backwards cross-kick from Barrett which killed the attacking momentum.
Running and defensive games
He made some steps here and there but ultimately failed to make major breaks and in defence, I would say he did decently.
Summary of Barrett’s playing conditions
A stagnant scrum, although not a dismantled one, and a solid advancing defensive line. This ultimately neutralised him and he had to revert to pure distribution.
However, we must also consider TJ Perenara’s terrible performance.
Perenara was slow in playing the ball from the ruck which gave the Wallabies time to organise and tighten their defence. If the passes were faster, the scrambling defence would have been exploited by any world-class flyhalf – a tier which Barrett belongs in.
Ultimately, Barrett had a solid but unextraordinary performance.
He faced similar conditions to what Mo’unga did against England which caused people to say that he was an imitation of Barrett, but reliant on good conditions.
When faced with a stagnant or retreating pack, a solid defensive line, and a scrumhalf performing poorly, no flyhalf can do well.
Barrett is no exception.
This is not about the 29-year-old being a bad player, but the theory of him being a pure playmaker and Mo’unga one reliant on a rolling pack is simply not true.
A fast-playing scrumhalf like Aaron Smith and another pivot in Mo’unga would have helped.
While playing with dual pivots and having a ruck in the middle of the field, New Zealand could split with two world-class playmakers on either side to lead a strike play. Thereby, thinning the line and potentially breaking it.
In Bledisloe 4, Barrett had to keep working around the play.
Quick ball could not be played to the other pivot on the opposite side of the ruck which slowed play down and allowed the defensive line to close the space.
Barrett cannot run the game as a solo pivot against a strong defence due to these factors.
He is a solid number ten and a visionary broken play attacker, but as a solo pivot who can run the game all the time, he is not.
The solo pivot hardly works anymore, and all good teams play with more than one.
This should also apply to the All Blacks.