Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

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.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Cape Flats gangsters, children die in fight over turf

Extortion rackets are part of a corrupt system that includes religious leaders, councillors, police and syndicates

Tobacco farmers want the taxman to do more to control...

The Black Tobacco Farmers’ Association the introduction of a minimum price level for cigarettes

More top stories

Cape Flats gangsters, children die in fight over turf

Extortion rackets are part of a corrupt system that includes religious leaders, councillors, police and syndicates

Father and son abandon gangs to start a project of...

After spending more than 40 years in a life of gangsterism, Ralph Haricombe’s life changed after his son asked him to change his life

Predators: Beauties or beasts?

How farmers perceive jackal and caracal — as ‘beautiful’ or ‘thieves’ — determines whether they will tolerate them on their livestock farms

Creecy taken to court over oil, gas plan

An environment group says its application is a ‘watershed’ case for stopping deep sea exploration
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×