All Blacks should stick with Beauden Barrett at the back for World Cup

Former full-back Mils Muliaina believes New Zealand will be even bigger threat in Japan if the former World Rugby player of the year gives up his role as 'The Boss' at fly-half

KASHIWA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 11: Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks runs through drills during a New Zealand training session at Kashiwa no Ha Park Stadium on September 11, 2019 in Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

New Zealand could represent an even more formidable threat at the Rugby World Cup if Beauden Barrett gives up his role as “The Boss” at fly-half.

That is the view of Mils Muliaina, the former full-back, who believes the All Blacks should persist with their recently-adopted ploy of playing Barrett at the back.

Barrett was regarded as the heir apparent to Dan Carter in the No 10 shirt when New Zealand won a second successive World Cup, in England four years ago.

When Carter subsequently moved away from Test rugby, Barrett assumed his position – and with spectacular success.

Between June 2016 and July 2019, Barrett played 38 Test matches in a row in the pivotal position of fly-half.

So outstanding was he, he was named World Rugby player of the year in 2016 and 2017, and was also a nominee in 2018.

And yet, in the weeks leading up to the defence of their world title, New Zealand opted to alter the proven formula.

With the incumbent full-back Damian McKenzie absent due to long-term injury, Steve Hansen, the All Blacks coach, switched Barrett to No 15 and instilled Richie Mo’unga at fly-half.

Although Mo’unga missed the last match before the World Cup starts, against Tonga last weekend, because of a shoulder injury, he is expected to be restored to the No 10 position if fit.

Muliaina, who played the vast majority of his own 100-Test career for New Zealand at fullback, thinks the All Blacks will profit from showing faith in Mo’unga.

“It is a completely different dynamic, having someone [at full-back] like Beauden who has been The Boss,” Muliaina said.

“He has been The Boss at No 10, the World Rugby Player of the Year, yet has had to step back and let Richie run the cutter.

“If Richie can come back, and they can keep them both healthy, I think they can be a real threat.”

Mo’unga guided the Crusaders’ to the Super Rugby title this season, and Muliaina hopes he can show the same form when on international duty.

“It has been a massive talking point back home in New Zealand,” said Muliaina, who is in the UAE as a guest speaker at the Dubai Rugby Sevens Long Lunch.

“Before the squad was named, we were thinking that, if McKenzie’s out, there’s reason to worry. But even without him, it is a damn strong squad.

“A lot of good guys missed out, like Owen Franks and Ngani Laumape, and McKenzie had been a big factor, and it has made them change the whole perspective in terms of how they are playing.

“Richie has been under an injury cloud, but he is coming right and I like the way they are going about it.

“Beauden is a real threat playing at the back, with Richie at No 10. He needs a little bit of time to settle but once he gets that going, you would love to see him step up to Crusaders form.”

Although Muliaina believes the tournament, which starts when Japan play Russia in Tokyo on Friday, September 20, will be “the most hotly contested World Cup ever”, he thinks a hat-trick of titles is possible for the All Blacks.

“One thing New Zealand will try and draw a lot of motivation from is the fact no-one has ever done a three-peat,” he said.

“They will use that as motivation going into the tournament. Hopefully, all things going well, they come out at the right end.

“[But] although my heart obviously wants the All Blacks to win it, I honestly couldn’t tell you who is at the front of the race going into it.”

Rugby player Mils Muliaina.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section: SP