WHEN THE42 VISITED New Zealand last year, the whispers about Jordie Barrett were growing into something of a chorus.
His older brother Beauden was busy impressing for the Hurricanes and the All Blacks, standing out as perhaps the best player in world rugby, but word was that Jordie might be even better.
The youngest in a remarkable family of five rugby-playing brothers, Jordie has certainly had a long list of impressive role models nearby as he has grown up.
Now playing in his first season of Super Rugby with the Hurricanes, the 20-year-old is making headlines for himself with his impressive array of skills.
While Jordie has experience across the backline and many feel that he will eventually settle at inside centre – he’s 6’5″ and weighs around 96kg, with scope for adding further mass – it’s at fullback where he has shone for the Canes this year, having helped Canterbury to Mitre 10 Cup success in 2016.
Most exciting for the Canes is the fact that 25-year-old Beauden and Jordie are dovetailing so well and creating magical attacking opportunities for Chris Boyd’s side.
Steve Hansen and his All Blacks coaching staff will have been watching closely – Jordie toured with New Zealand as a non-playing apprentice last November – and it’s certain that the pair of them will be unleashed together in the black jersey in the near future.
Their brother Scott, a 23-year-old lock for the Crusaders and an All Black already, continues to impress as well, meaning we could be set for the reign of the Barretts at Test level in the coming years - fulfilling a promise their father, Kevin, is said to have made.
For now, we can simply enjoy the effect Jordie and Beauden are having on the Canes.
The Hurricanes are top try-scorers in Super Rugby so far this year, with 44 tries in six games meaning the Wellington-based side are some distance clear of second-best Stormers, who have dotted down 33 times.
While big wins against very poor Sunwolves and Rebels defences have driven the Hurricanes’ total up to that 44 mark, the creative influence of the Barrett brothers has also been important.
Beauden has always been capable of creating and taking try-scoring chances, but adding Jordie to the mix has only increased the Hurricanes’ threat.
The value of a second playmaker in the backline has been a major talking point in Irish rugby in recent times, and the Barrett brothers’ combination for the Canes is a fine case study.
We get an example of Jordie playing off Beauden above, during the win over the Reds.
Ngani Laumape acts as the link between scrum-half TJ Perenara and Beauden, before the out-half’s strong playmaking skills come to the fore.
The temptation for Beauden in this instance is to catch and pass as rapidly as he can, shifting the ball early to the space wide on the left.
But he understands the need to fix defenders and so, after he receives the ball, he strides upfield, as indicated by the broken white line in the image above.
That serves to fix Reds tighthead Taniela Tupou and also drag Samu Kerevi inwards as he worries about a short pass from Beauden to Mark Abbott. Small details from Beauden, but vital ones to ensure those Reds defenders don’t immediately drift out onto Jordie.
The Canes fullback then shows off his own fine detail with a wondrous pass.
Firstly, Jordie eases off his upfield run – actually reversing briefly – to give Beauden time to pull his pass back, as well as allowing Abbott time to make his decoy run ahead of the ball.
Secondly, Jordie is reaching towards the pass [as we see above], providing a fine target, and he has his fingers spread wide to ensure he’s going to get a strong grip on the ball to carry out his own pass.
Next on his checklist is ensuring that he has fixed a defender, which happens in a split second, Jordie recognising in that time that Reds wing Chris Kuridrani has been drawn in as a direct result of Beauden taking the ball to the line before his own pass.
Kuridrani’s positioning and the fact that the Hurricanes have numbers up on the edge means that Jordie doesn’t need to take the same deliberate upfield steps that Beauden did and he fires off his pass within two steps of receiving.
It’s a breathtaking moment of skill as Jordie manufactures major power in the blink of an eye, not even using a big wind-up to generate that force. A menacing whip of the inside arm and the wrists instead gets the job done, as Jordie shows the evidence of the countless hours of passing practice he has worked through.
The more obvious pass is a simple skip beyond Matt Proctor [in the 13 shirt] to hooker Ricky Riccitelli, but Jordie instead launches the ball all the way to Brad Shields, who feeds Julian Savea [without fixing his man] to finish.
Easing the burden
We know the Hurricanes and the majority of New Zealand teams like to shift the ball to the edges in search of space, and the addition of Jordie to their backline has greatly aided the Canes’ efforts in this regard.
His ability to identify and exploit space has been crucial in taking the burden off Beauden in the 10 shirt.
We get another example above against the Waratahs, as Jordie’s pass allows Cory Jane to surge up the right touchline, a break that will indirectly result in a try for the Hurricanes.
As the Canes move the ball to Beauden through back row Shields, we can see that Jordie has his head up and scanning for space.
He recognises that Isreal Folau is the last man on the edge of the Waratahs’ frontline defence and has the cue he needs.
After the ball arrives into Beauden’s hands, we can see that right wing Jane is signalling that space, with his hand in the air [circled below], asking for the ball to be delivered to him.
In the past, Beauden might have taken it upon himself to deliver the pass or kick for Jane to run onto – and that may be the right option on other occasions – but he trusts Jordie to take the responsibility here.
We don’t know for certain, but it appears obvious that Jordie has called for the ball, and this is another key point. The Hurricanes’ communication of where the space is has always been a team responsibility, with all players contributing.
Instead of Beauden taking on a more difficult chance to find Jane, he hits Jordie, which serves to draw Folau further upfield and create more space for the fullback to pass into. His skill execution is excellent again.
A final element to note above, as Jordie passes to Jane, is the position of scrum-half Perenara, running a pre-emptive support line ahead of the ball in anticipation of the linebreak that’s coming. The Kiwi sides excel in this department.
One of the other key themes coming from the New Zealand Super Rugby teams again this year is the quality of their attacking kicking.
Beauden has been sensational in his regard for some time, but Jordie once again offers an additional threat for the Canes here.
The below try against the Highlanders shows us Beauden and Jordie linking once again, with the younger brother taking on responsibility for the kick pass.
There is space present wide on the right and in behind Highlanders wing Tevita Li when Beauden is on the ball, as signified by the yellow box below.
Beauden is more than capable of hitting that area with a kick himself, but the point is that by passing to Jordie, the out-half is ensuring that it’s going to be even harder for the defence to react and rescue the situation.
As the ball transfers into the hands of Jordie, we can see below that Li advances further up the pitch, initially thinking that the Canes will continue to pass wide.
Li does react to turn and scramble out towards the touchline as Barrett calmly pops his intelligent diagonal kick over the Highlanders wing’s head, but it’s too late and Hurricanes centre Laumape gathers to power over for the try.
Anything you can do…
As mentioned above, Beauden is a more than capable kicker himself, as we see later in the same game against the Highlanders.
It’s a longer kick from Beauden in this instance, with more hang time, and the idea here is to give his wide men a 2-on-1 situation in the air against the exposed Li.
Vince Aso is the one to get off the ground against Li to compete, but he appears to pull out of making a genuine effort to field the ball at a late stage. It’s impossible to say for certain, but it does look like the Canes wing is hoping the ball will fall into Jordie’s hands.
So it transpires and we get a good example of the Canes fullback’s strength as he transfers the ball into his right arm and fires a long left arm into the upper chest of Highlanders centre Matt Faddes.
The fend – another skill in which Kiwi teams and players excel – buys Jordie time to steady himself down the touchline and, even with Faddes fighting against him, he produces a sublime offload around the back to Proctor.
It’s another jaw-dropping moment of skill, but it’s simply another part of the repertoire that Jordie and his brothers have been practising for years.
All of the Barrett boys possess fine vision and decision-making skills, but this is perhaps the area where Beauden remains the frontrunner.
We’ve seen it in each of the examples above, in various ways, and the incident below highlights it again.
While the Waratahs defence should never really concede in this fashion, the decision and pass from Beauden are sublime.
Before that moment of skill, it’s important to note how the decoy runs from Laumape and Proctor sit the Waratahs midfield down.
While the Barretts and Jane hang out the ball, the Hurricanes centres run hard ‘unders’ lines back on the inside shoulders of the Waratahs defence at the same time that Perenara takes steps across the pitch before passing.
That combination serves to sit down David Horwitz and the players inside him, and the decoys briefly attract Folau infield onto Proctor, before he bursts out and marks up on Beauden.
It’s only momentary from Folau, but it also drags wing Taqele Naiyaravoro infield too, at exactly the moment he needs to track Jordie’s angled run away from the original maul.
We can see that Folau is re-adjusting in the image above, and Naiyaravoro attempts to do the same, but his reaction is ponderous and Jordie is outside him as Beauden receives the ball and arcs left himself.
The Canes have created the space, but it’s still beautifully creative from Beauden to slip the ball over the head of Naiyaravoro with just enough height to clear the Waratahs wing, but also with sufficient power to ensure Jordie doesn’t have to slow down and wait for it.
Some players could identify the same solution as Beauden does here, but not many could execute in the accurate manner the Canes out-half does.
Counter and kick return
As we know, counter-attack and kick return are two key sources for all New Zealand sides and Beauden is a world-leading proponent of attack in these unstructured situations.
Jordie, rather unsurprisingly, is also comfortable at striking back at the opposition if invited to do so, and he also understands that feeding his brother is the best option at times.
The fullback fires off a quick lineout throw in the example above, ensuring that Beauden gets ample time in which to locate and exploit the space with ball in hand.
The New Zealand out-half beats defenders with ease here, showing his individual ability on the counter, but this incident also underlines to us another reason why Kiwi sides are so strong in these situations.
While it is unstructured play, time and again the Kiwi teams bring work rate and simple shape to their kick return and counter attack to ensure that they have threats all over the pitch.
As Beauden waits for Jordie to field the ball and take his quick throw, we can see Hurricanes left wing Wes Goosen working back up the pitch and in from the left to ensure that Beauden will have support as he comes back at the Waratahs.
Seconds later, as Beauden searches out the opening, we see that back rows Callum Gibbins and Reed Prinsep have worked all the way back to provide width on the left for the Canes.
And widest on the left is centre Laumape, who has also worked hard to get into a position that ensures the Canes have those threats all over the pitch – Barrett could have even bounced back to his right to return a pass to Jordie.
Beauden may be the key man here, but the work rate of his team-mates means he has several outlets to pass to and it also means the defence is stretched by their presence.
After Beauden hits Prinsep for a powerful carry, the Canes score on the next phase as Perenara pops to Laumape to score in the left corner.
A team effort, but players like Beauden, Jordie and many others make the Canes’ kick return and counter-attack lethal.
It’s the 20-year-old who makes the initial dent for the Canes above, pawing off a couple of flimsy Waratahs tackle attempts before offloading to Abbott, once again sending the Canes thundering forward.
Generally speaking, the Barrett brothers are both robust defenders and Jordie is showing good signs of an ability to make decisions in this area of the game too.
We get a glimpse above, as Eto Nabuli powers forwards for the Reds, with Beauden and Jordie the closest defenders for the Canes.
Beauden completes a low tackle on Nabuli and rebounds back to his feet to spoil possession, but we’re as interested in Jordie’s actions here.
When play gets to the moment below, the obvious decision for Jordie looks to be attacking the ball once Beauden gets Nabuli to ground.
It looks like a gilt-edged chance for Jordie to jackal over the ball and win a turnover, but he is intelligent to recognise a different threat if was to commit.
With Beauden tackling low, there’s some scope for Nabuli to offload off the ground to an arriving Reds support player before Jordie can clamp over the ball.
With that in mind, the Canes fullback stands off the contest and covers the space in behind.
Not only does that mean Jordie is covering the possible offload, but it also allows Beauden to bounce up and get over Nabuli, forcing his foot in before George Smith arrives to clear him away.
It’s a small detail in Jordie’s play as he works superbly with his brother to cover every possible danger, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Providing a contrast in the example below is a Crusaders try against the Waratahs.
In this instance, Folau – coming from that fullback covering position – does commit to jackaling over the ball, but we can see that Crusaders wing Manasa Mataele gets his offload away before Folau can stop the ball.
While there is no ‘right’ decision applying to all scenarios of this nature – attacking the ball on the ground is most certainly the intelligent option at times – Jordie’s contribution off the ball against the Reds is clever.
Of course, the 20-year-old is still learning in all aspects of the game and the Waratahs exploited him defensively on one occasion.
It’s Folau who does the damage for the Waratahs off a Bernard Foley pass, as Jordie – relocated due to replacements for the Canes – just lets the Wallaby get too far to his outside shoulder before reacting.
It’s a relatively unfamiliar position for Jordie, but he will likely reflect on losing sight of Folau and, instead, watching the ball at the crucial moment.
With Folau’s acceleration taking him beyond the realistic tackling grasp of Jordie, Beauden has to bite in on from the outside and Folau is free to slip Andrew Kellaway over for the try.
More to come
One area where Jordie looks to have the edge on his older brother is with his place-kicking.
The 20-year-old has taken over place-kicking responsibilities for the Canes in recent weeks, with Beauden citing a sore rib in opting to hand over the tee to his brother, although it would be a surprise if the All Blacks out-half did not resume his role here as the Lions tour draws closer.
Longer-term, Jordie appears to be the better place-kicker and it would be no great shock to see him take on this mantle at Test level if he does become a regular All Black.
Admittedly, the sample size remains relatively small for Jordie in senior rugby, so this is not quite certain just yet.
Both Barrett brothers are under 70% off the tee in Super Rugby this year, although many of their conversions attempts have been from out wide. Nonetheless, it is something they will continue to work hard on, as with the rest of their skills.
What is very clear is that the best is yet to come from the Barretts, who look certain to wear black together alongside their brother, Scott, in the near future.
As we see above with the passes from Jordie  and Beauden , they play without any fear of making errors.
When that mindset is combined with world-class decision-making, handling, defensive and communication skills that will only get better, the future is very exciting for the Barretts.
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