CAPE TOWN - At the first press conference following his Currie Cup debut against the Free State Cheetahs, Western Province fullback Craig Barry said that it felt like he was playing in his 80th game and not his first one.
And judging by what Barry put on show at the weekend, that game certainly wasn’t one of his lasts in the blue-and- white striped jersey.
At Newlands last Saturday Barry, 25, made his Currie Cup bow for Province, and he made thorough use of the opportunity as he not only scored a debut try, but also produced a great performance overall - great enough to earn him the Man of the Match award.
In that game, Barry was part of a WP backline that wreaked total havoc against a hapless Cheetahs side. But he didn’t just ride WP’s attacking wave - he was also vital in terms of directing the flow of that wave as well.
If you’ve been following the Varsity Cup star, you’d know that his performance against the Free State team was no beginner’s luck, no isolated case, nothing out of the ordinary (for him, that is).
A couple of years ago, Barry was one of those youngsters that rugby coaches and die-hard fans alike couldn’t help but get excited about.
The Paul Roos product excelled throughout the WP junior ranks, and in 2011, he made the Junior Springbok squad. But one year later, in 2012, he was forced to take a back seat and miss out on lifting the trophy at Newlands with his fellow Baby Boks after being hit by injuries.
And from there on the injury pest just couldn’t seem to get enough of the ball-player who knows how to deceive defenders just as well as he knows how to use his head to organise and steer a backline.
But now, a couple of years older and certainly determined, Barry has been granted another shot at a successful rugby career. And this season he’s been laying the foundation for that dream rugby construction in a superb way.
Barry shone in Province’s trophy-winning SuperSport Rugby Challenge campaign, and now, with SP Marais injured and Dillyn Leyds in Springbok camp, Barry has been given a chance to show that - just like back then - he’s still a player to watch.
Thank You God, you are faithful! pic.twitter.com/p5j67XfSmD
And while his unmissable attacking finesse has caught the eye of many a rugby fan, it’s his leadership, his communication and organisational skills basically everything “less obvious” that Barry offers, that has impressed Western Province coach John Dobson the most.
“Craig is a gem, and the thing about him that is probably less obvious to everybody is his communication skills, his organisational skills and his leadership - I mean he captained us a few times in the SuperSport Challenge. He captained Maties as well,” Dobson said earlier this week.
“And I think if you’re going to captain a team from fullback, you have to be exceptional as a leader and a good communicator, which Craig is.”
In a backline that features two Sevens specialists (three including Werner Kok on the replacements bench), the organisational and communication abilities of Barry can only assist the speedsters from the seven-man game to further sharpen their craft in the 15-man sport.
And it’s something that Dobson appreciates: “Our back three of Seabelo, Ruhan and Werner are all Sevens players, and Craig’s leadership and guidance there is very important. He did a great job there last week, he never stopped talking.”
But apart from that, apart from what Barry can do for those around him in the WP backline, the most important thing for him is to perform consistently to ensure that his two starting berths aren't just a temporary fix.
And judging by what Dobson said at the team announcement, where Barry was again named at No 15 in the side to travel to Mpumalanga for their date with the Pumas, the experienced Matie isn’t just a plaster to hold the fragile fullback position in place until the regulars return.
“I think when the other guys get fit it’s going to be a selection dilemma for us, given the quality of Craig Barry,” Dobson said.