While most Super Rugby players have been chomping at the bit for almost a month since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the season, All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett has been seeing out the last few weeks of his sabbatical.
Barrett last played against Wales in the World Cup third place playoff at the start of November before embarking on the furlough built into his contract to increase his chances of being fit and fresh for the 2023 tournament in France.
But for Super Rugby’s suspension, Barrett would have been making his debut for the Auckland Blues against his former club the Wellington Hurricanes at Eden Park today.
With New Zealand still in the grip of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, his first match for the Blues will not be happening any time soon and looks most likely to be in a cobbled-together domestic competition. “I’m just staying ready physically and trying to stay calm mentally so that whenever the bosses decide what’s happening we’re ready to go and locked in,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
“It’s easier said than done. Some people don’t cope well with uncertainty but for me, I’ve had a bit of time off and haven’t returned yet, so I’m still in the same mode — I’m building.”
Barrett played for the Hurricanes for eight years so facing his old team mates for the first time on his Blues debut would have been quite a moment for the twice World Player of the Year. “I’m really looking forward to playing the first one and it doesn’t matter who it’s against,” he added. “If it was the Hurricanes it would have killed two birds with one stone and it would probably be the best way to get over the whole thing. That time will come eventually.
“I think I’ll be in a good position to hit the ground running (but) there’s nothing like playing for match fitness, particularly at test and Super Rugby level where the game is played at such a high pace.”
The three-times champion Blues, who have gone eight years without making the playoffs, had made a promising start to the 2020 season, winning four successive matches before Super Rugby was brought to a halt at the end of round seven.
“Like a lot of Blues fans, I was getting really excited and already starting to think about playoffs and so on,” Barrett said.
“Even the players were starting to realise their potential. They were showing a lot of self-belief and trust in each other...”
File photo of New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett. (Reuters)