New Zealand’s worry

Friday, September 6th, 2019 00:00 |
All Blacks will be cynical Rugby World Cup ‘cheats’. photo/PD/FILE

Tokyo, Thursday

The All Blacks are confident they can win an unprecedented third straight Rugby World Cup in Japan, even if they have to shift one of the team’s star players from his favoured position to do it.

No one in the current New Zealand squad can match the individual accolades heaped upon Beauden Barrett, a two-time World Rugby player of the year.

Barrett, 28, earned his awards for excelling at fly-half, coordinating the All Blacks in attack and splitting opposition defences with his deft kicking.

His prowess in the number 10 jersey was the reason the Auckland Blues broke the bank to lure him away from Wellington Hurricanes for the 2020 Super Rugby season.

However, the All Blacks believe the key to winning their third consecutive World Cup, and fourth overall, is moving Barrett to full-back and handing fly-half duties to Richie Mo’unga, long seen as his understudy.

The genesis of the decision lies in the British and Irish Lions tour of 2017, when the visitors employed a rush defence to put the New Zealand backs under pressure.

It left Barrett at times looking rattled and forced uncharacteristic errors as the series ended in a draw.

Since then, other opponents have adopted the same strategy and coach Steve Hansen acknowledged ahead of this year’s Rugby Championship that it was an issue for the world champions.

“Hopefully we can show some big improvement in the decision-making under line speed, which is an area of the game that we believe everyone is going to chuck at us,” he said.

“The better we get at it the better result we’re going to get for ourselves.”

Hansen’s plan to counter a rush defence was to field dual playmakers - one at fly-half and the other at full-back - providing extra attacking options.           - AFP

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