Without a shadow of a doubt, Beauden Barrett is the best attacking fly-half in World Rugby and rightfully deserves his World Player of the year awards from the last two seasons but there is a fundamental flaw in the Hurricane’s playmakers armoury and if he played for any other nation then it would have been addressed by now.
Barrett’s goal kicking is as reliable as the train services in London. Just when you think it is in full working order something arbitrary happens and it decides to shut down leaving everyone stranded and wondering how is this possible?
Barrett has won the All Blacks many a game with his attacking play and there is absolutely no question about his place in the team but it has been overlooked that in some of the biggest or closest games in their recent history, his inability to bisect the posts has cost the best team in the world.
Against the British and Irish Lions last season he seemed to have answered a lot of critics as he played the first test out with a 100% record but 70% followed in the following week’s defeat and in the big decider he missed half of his kicks at goal as that match and consequently the series was drawn.
This season for the All Blacks his kicking percentage is at a lowly 55%.
This isn’t a new thing though and although he has dropped down the pecking order from the tee at the Hurricanes now with his brother, Jordie seemingly taking the pot shots he has also cost them games in the past.
One of the most memorable was a one point loss to the Chiefs back in 2016 where he was successful with one of his six attempts at goal. That was a total of 13 points that were left on the field that night. At this stage in his career there were already calls for him to relinquish the tee to someone else.
The thing that people can’t get their head around though is why he is still kicking at goal.
Although the role of a goal kicker would traditionally sit with the number 10, there is no specific rule to say it must.
One of the first goal kickers I remember watching was a second row. John Eales kicked 164 points for Australia but more recently we have witnessed numerous scrum halves for France assume the role and England’s current inside centre, Owen Farrell, kicks at goal for his country.
Farrell is a good case in point. He kicks at goal for the same reason that New Zealand should look elsewhere on the field for their kicker. George Ford and Danny Cipriani are not reliable enough to kick for their country when the pressure is on. Cipriani doesn’t even kick at goal for his club side Gloucester.
There is no shame in that because these are the decisions that players and coaches must make in order to ensure victories.
It almost feels like Steve Hansen has ignored an underlying issue with Barrett because they generally win their matches by a large enough margin for it not to matter.
One of Hansen’s issues though is in his selection of the back three. It has not always been consistent mainly owing to injuries. Ben Smith has moved around the trio and Jordie Barrett has had a few injury concerns but the exclusion of Damian McKenzie may well be where the answer lies.
Hansen needs to either make Jordie Barrett his goal kicker with immediate effect or he needs to start picking McKenzie as a first choice winger or full back and hand him the tee.
This does create a huge selection dilemma for Hansen as essentially, he would have to make a sacrifice that he doesn’t want to make.
Ben Smith doesn’t kick at goal but he is world class and is as close to indispensable as you can get but also Rieko Ioane is the deadliest finisher in World Rugby right now.
That leaves Jordie Barrett and McKenzie to fight for the 15 shirt should Smith stay on the right wing. Either way, one of them needs to start and whoever that is, they must start slotting goals.
Both are superior goal kickers to the oldest Barrett brother for not only their accuracy but for the range that they offer.
One of them should have taken on the role at some point on Saturday but according to Head Coach Hansen, it was the players that made the decision to leave Beauden with the duties.
This may have also affected the decision making when the clock was in the red at the end of the game.
The home team were under the posts with a simple drop kick to win the match yet they kept ball in hand and knocked on. Poor decision making on the players parts but there is a good chance that the outside half didn’t want the responsibility of trying to win the match with a skill that had been letting him down the whole game.
Beauden doesn’t have the distance that the other two have and his touchline kicks are languishing in the mid fifty percentile. It’s fine to not have the distance of others but only if you have unerring accuracy.
Greig Laidlaw, Scotland’s scrum half, doesn’t have the greatest distance on his kicks but his accuracy is as good as anyone on the planet. His percentage was 84.2% in this year’s Six Nations.
As already mentioned, there is and shouldn’t be any call for Beauden to be dropped as that would be nothing short of ludicrous but unfortunately for someone else in the back three they may have to start collecting splinters on their backside because of the Wellington fly-half’s inability to kick a goal.
It’s a harsh lesson for Hansen to learn but he can not afford to plead ignorance any longer as not dealing with it up until this point has just jumped up and bitten him.
If it happened in a World Cup knockout match then he probably won’t be getting on the same plane as the players back to New Zealand for his own safety.