Beauden Barrett feels a new generation of All Blacks are ready to take on the world after their impressive Pool B defeat of South Africa on Saturday.
The 28-year old was a replacement on the side that claimed the Webb Ellis trophy in England when seeing off Australia in the decider four years ago but this is a different vintage.
The likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter have long left the stage and Barrett, a key man in the back line in this latest four-year cycle, was quick to confirm that he feels more ownership of the side now as they look to make it a hat-trick if successive titles here in Japan.
“A lot has changed since four years ago,” he explained. “We have had so many senior players who have moved on since the 2015 tournament so there is a great new bunch of guys who have worked really hard leading up to this World Cup.
“I guess it is a great opportunity for us and for myself in a more senior role. I'm excited about playing well for the All Blacks at this World Cup.”
This 23-13 win was remarkable given there were so many questions about New Zealand in so many areas beforehand. Questions about their pack and their power. Questions about new faces on the wings and ongoing concerns over a midfield that hasn’t really settled in recent years.
And questions over the use of Barrett at full-back and Richie Mo’unga at out-half. All of them were answered.
If Ardie Savea gave a display for the ages in the back row then the Barrett/Mo’unga dual playmaker idea, first trialled in the draw with the Boks in Wellington just two months ago, was a feather in the cap for Steve Hansen’s brains trust.
Shifting Barrett, the best player in the world in 2016 and ‘17, from his role in the cockpit to one of rear gunner to accommodate Mo’unga was a brave move and especially so given this tournament was so close.
“From my attitude point of view it doesn't change anything,” said Barrett. “Playing first five-eight or at 15, tactically things will change and I have to vary how I do things out there, but as an influencer of the game I want to be as demanding as I can.”
Others are taking primary roles too. The Kiwis left their kicking game behind in the ‘sheds’ for that draw in Wellington during the summer but it was noticeable that it was scrum-half Aaron Smith who utilized the boot time and again here. This is an All Black side evolving at a rate of knots before our eyes and still playing like the best side in the world as they do it. That’s astonishing.
“It's not something we have used to much this year but we understand the importance of kicking from nine at times. You see it a lot from all the top teams in the world,” said Barrett.
“When it comes down to tense games, rush defences and big forward packs who like to go from set piece to set piece and keep it slow, sometimes it is easy to say, here you go, 'have this high ball and see how you wanna start your attack again'.
“I don't know if they expected that so much from us but it is good that we have it up our sleeve too.”
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