How the Barrett family has plotted the course for New Zealand rugby

 

 

According to New Zealand legend, Kevin Barrett was unequivocal when asked about his post-retirement plans: “I’m going to go breed some All Blacks.” No one’s sure if he really said that — a trait of good folklore — but there are none who can deny that’s exactly what he did.

Not only have Beauden, Jordie and Scott Barrett gone on to earn caps but when they ran out against France last year, they became the first sibling trio to take the field at the same time. With all of them being nailed-down selections for the World Cup (good health willing), the three are erecting a veritable family dynasty in the best team in the world.

There is no comparison across the sporting world when we consider the prestige and competition involved in slipping on the famed black shirt. Add in the fact that oldest brother Kane Barrett was a promising lock before being forced into retirement, after suffering a concussion and their rise is unprecedented.

How did one family get so good? It’s a question many a Kiwi journalist has sought to answer. One of them, Peter Bills, put it to Beauden for his recent book The Jersey: The Secrets Behind the World’s Most Successful Team.

“We acquire the basic skills at a very young age,” Barrett said. “It starts with your dad passing you a ball when you are five years old, or even [younger]. You are also watching your heroes play on TV, watching them and seeing how they do it. Then you take those lessons out into the backyard and do it with your mates.

“I had my brothers around, so it was pretty competitive. We used to pack down scrums, I would feed the scrum. We did everything. We got used to doing those skills because you never really know what position you are going to end up in or how your body may develop. In the country, there isn’t a whole lot more to do except play sport. When you do it over a period of several years you are really going to develop your balls skills.”

It’s that last part that seems most influential — judging by anecdotal evidence at least. As much as genes passed down from rugby pedigree surely help, it’s a lifetime spent kicking and throwing balls that has made sport as natural as breathing for the Barretts.

Growing up on a dairy farm on the west coast, the brothers were freed from the distractions that come with city living. With no such thing as a PlayStation in the house, all their free time was spent outside with the neighbouring kids in the field. Even if it wasn’t rugby, countless games of soccer and cricket were presumably invaluable in developing potent hand-eye coordination.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has himself credited country life with nudging along aspiring youngsters. In conversations about the Barretts, he’s made the easy comparison to the Whitelock brothers who also grew up in relatively rural areas. Sam, George and Luke Whitelock have all been capped (but not at the same time).

After playing what should be key roles at the World Cup for Hansen, two-time world player of the year Beauden and the versatile Jordie could shake up New Zealand rugby at franchise level. The former has already joined the Blues from the Hurricanes in what has been described as the biggest coup in Super Rugby history. The Auckland team are hopeful that his younger brother, tipped by some to mature into an even greater player, will follow suit.

The Blues, who have toiled for so long under the weight of a perpetual wooden spoon in the conference, all of a sudden look to be putting in an outside bid for the title. (Scott, of course, has already hoisted a couple himself thanks to the key role he plays in the Crusaders pack.)

You wouldn’t bet against it for a single fact: the Barretts are winners. Their entire lives have been spent mastering this game. In one way or another they have been “bred” for their roles. As the oldest of the All Blacks sibling trio at 28, Beauden will be hopeful of playing in at least one more World Cup after September. With Jordie only 22, prepare to see this family name around for a while yet.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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