Former All Blacks head coach Sir Steve Hansen believes Jordie Barrett’s emergence as an inside centre for New Zealand is the biggest positive from 2022.
It was a turbulent year for the All Blacks, suffering a series defeat to Ireland in July before falling to a maiden defeat in New Zealand to Argentina.
The All Blacks did manage to defend their Rugby Championship title, but their performance until then almost cost Ian Foster his job.
After the defeat to Argentina, Foster’s charges went on a six-game winning streak but ended the year with a 25-all draw to England.
First choice centre
While Barrett racked up a considerable amount of minutes at inside centre for the Hurricanes in 2022, Foster continued to select him at full-back for New Zealand in the early stages of the international season.
An injury to David Havilli finally allowed Barrett to start in the centre role in the black jersey when he started in the midfield with Rieko Ioane against Australia in their final Rugby Championship match.
He produced a magnificent performance in the role and would earn two more starts in the number 12 jumper.
Hansen believes Barrett’s performances in the position should make him the first-choice inside centre in 2023.
“He’s the man we’ve been looking for for quite some time to fill in that slot. He’s big; he’s strong; he’s fast. He’s got a great passing game. A wonderful kicker of the ball. Defensively he loves to get in amongst it and make the big hits and has the size to do it for you.
“He’s a wonderful communicator, and both the 10s, whoever is playing, are going to benefit when they have a good 12 outside them who is prepared to communicate.
“He’s also a player that if nothing’s on, you can just give it to Jordie, and he’ll cart it, like back in the day with Ma’a [Nonu] and Sonny [Bill Williams] sometimes. He gives us that option, too, because he’s such a big athlete.”
Turning the ship
Commenting on the All Blacks’ coaching changes in 2022, Hansen says that tough decisions were made that turned the ship around for the side, with the side finishing the year positively.
“They were tough decisions that had to be made but were made by Ian, and the ship has turned itself around and I think they go into the World Cup with quite a bit of excitement,” he said.
“They ended the year pretty positively. Apart from 10 minutes against England they really dominated that game. It all started earlier in the year against Ireland. I think people underestimated just how good they were. We didn’t play anywhere near how we wanted to.
Hansen believes that the All Blacks’ challenges in 2022 will make them hungrier this year and that key learnings will have been made ahead of the World Cup.
“What they have encountered, and for this group it’s probably the first time ever, is a bit of adversity. And that adversity makes you hungrier, it makes you look at the mirror a lot harder and you start to have those inconvenient conversations that you don’t normally want to have and you can get away with not having them because you are winning,” he said.
“But when things are happening like they were, they’ve had to strip the whole thing back and have some really uncomfortable conversations. We’ve seen the changes that have come out of those conversations. We’ve also seen the players take some ownership and the coaching group take some ownership.
“I think they’ll be quietly satisfied. You’re never happy when you’re in the All Blacks, but they’ll be satisfied that they’ve made the progress they need to be going into this next block and then the World Cup.”