Blues coach Leon MacDonald says Beauden Barrett’s sore ribs prevented him from training all week and only his bloody-minded determination to hold on to the No 10 jersey got him to the starting line against the Highlanders on Sunday.
The Blues’ big men were impressive in the 32-21 win, dominating the Highlanders at scrum time and winning the gain line battle, but Barrett’s class at No 10 was also evident.
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Beauden Barrett makes a break against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
But there was more to Barrett’s performance than met the eye, with MacDonald admitting after the game that Barrett was “very close” to missing out after taking a heavy knock to the ribs against the Chiefs last week.
“He’s a bit of an understated hero, really,” MacDonald said.
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“He was pretty sore with the ribs throughout the week and barely trained, and kicking was really sore.
“He showed a lot of old-school toughness to play with sore ribs and anyone who has had sore ribs understands how tough it is.
“He got hit off the ball at one point, straight in the ribs, and he jumped back up again.
“I thought he was outstanding tonight, he showed some real toughness.”
Barrett has had to be patient at the Blues, with Stephen Perofeta’s injury and Otere Black’s strong form in the No 10 jersey delaying Barrett’s chance to play in his preferred position.
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Beauden Barrett takes the ball to the line against the Highlanders.
However, there were good signs in his performance at Forsyth Barr Stadium as he mixed up his options well, while his rib injury perhaps played a part in a so-so performance off the kicking tee.
The Super Rugby Aotearoa title could well be in the Crusaders’ hands by the time the Blues host Scott Robertson’s side in the final round, but there will still be huge interest in the duel between Barrett and the in-form Richie Mo’unga.
“He was in big danger of missing the (Highlanders) game,” MacDonald said.
“But he was pretty determined to play.
“He’s got his hands on the No 10 jersey and I don’t think he wanted to give it up.
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Beauden Barrett’s kicking game was compromised by his rib inury.
“He did everything he could and even gave up his weekly game of golf to make sure he was fit and ready to go, and that’s a big sacrifice for Beaudy.”
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger acknowledged that the Blues were deserved winners, and rued the fact that the Blues imposed their power game while the Highlanders couldn’t get into their high-tempo attack patterns for much of the game.
“It’s disappointing but I thought the Blues earned their win, and played good rugby,” Mauger said.
“We were aware of their strengths but the power game was just too much tonight, they dominated the gainline and got into the 22m and took their opportunities.
“We couldn’t quite get our speed and flow going.
“It was a slow game, low ball in play, pretty stop-start, and it didn’t really help the way we wanted to play.”
Both coaches were somewhat bemused by the controversy surrounding the try that the Blues had rubbed out in the first half after Aaron Smith had been impeded by Karl Tu’inukuafe, who was slow to get to his feet and in an offside position.
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Aaron Mauger acknowledged the Highlanders were beaten by a better Blues side who controlled the tempo of the game.
Mauger agreed with the decision to award the Highlanders a penalty (“He’s influenced the attack, and we had them under pressure at the time), while MacDonald didn’t want to dwell on an incident that clearly had no impact on the outcome.
However, MacDonald was thrilled to take possession of some silverware in the form of the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy after an eight-year barren spell.
“We talked about it during the week, the significance of Gordon Hunter and his contribution to rugby,” he said.
“It was a great chance for us to put something in cabinet this year.
“It’s been a long time, and we’re pretty proud.”