TWICKENHAM – Beauden Barrett has said being appointed captain of New Zealand for the world champions’ tour opener against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday was “beyond my wildest imagination”.
This weekend’s clash, in front of an expected crowd of more than 60 000, will remarkably represent the first time that flyhalf Barrett has captained a rugby team at any level.
For the 26-year-old, it also marks his first match since he went off with concussion during the first half of the All Blacks’ thrilling 25-24 Rugby Championship win over South Africa in Cape Town last month.
As if that were not all enough, adding to what Barrett said would be a “unique occasion” is the knowledge that some 36 New Zealanders – the Barbarians have 10 in their starting line-up alone, including wing star Julian Savea – could be involved if both teams clear their respective benches.
“It is the first-ever team I’ve captained, so for it to be the All Blacks is a big challenge for me,” Barrett told a pitch-side news conference at Twickenham on Friday.
Asked if it had been a dream to captain his country, the 59-times capped Barrett replied: “Never, no. This is well beyond my wildest imagination.
“It was a dream for me as a youngster to play for the All Blacks, but I never thought of captaining them.”
The Wellington playmaker, however, said he was relishing the responsibility of leading the team in a match where New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has rested several senior players, including regular captain Kieran Read, ahead of full Tests against France, Scotland and Wales later on tour.
“The good thing about it is the challenge, and it’s something I’ve been looking forward to,” Barrett said.
Questioned on how he had gone about the job, Barrett jokingly replied: “A lot of delegating! I’m not really a motivational person, but that’s when my lieutenant Sam Cane will come in handy.
“If he needs to say something, he says it, and he’s been good like that.”
But as an flyhalf, Barrett is used to running New Zealand’s attack, and All Black scrumhalf TJ Perenara said the No 10 was more than capable of delivering some well-chosen words.
“He talks a lot, and very accurately,” Perenara said.
“It’s the calmness and game management that he brings that are his best assets,” he added.
Barbarians matches are not full internationals, but there’s arguably no such thing as a ‘pressure-free’ game for New Zealand and Barrett said: “It’s still a great challenge for me. I don’t expect it to be perfect, it’s my first week in this position.”
Barrett came off the bench to help New Zealand win the 2015 World Cup final against Australia at Twickenham, and he said the prospect of leading the side at headquarters was “pretty special”.
“It is unique... To play the BaaBaas here, any occasion you get to play at Twickenham, it’s a great one and we are looking forward to that.
“We’re aware of who our opponents are and how familiar we are with them, and that’s just going to add to the spectacle. There should be a few words shared out there, no doubt.”
Meanwhile, Barrett insisted he had made a complete recovery from his head knock.
“I guess it was a waiting game early on, coming back from my concussion, but as I started to feel good, I could plan and this was the game I targeted,” he explained.
“It’s just great to be running around wearing this All Black training kit, and tomorrow (Saturday) it’s going to be the black jersey, so I’m excited about that.”