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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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Jim Kayes: Two players caught the eye again

Getty Images

Jim Kayes     01 Oct 2017     Getty Images

So much has been written about Beauden Barrett that a thesaurus is devoid of new superlatives, but his off load out the back of his hand to wing Waisake Naholo for his try was something else. And then there was the between the legs pass to Damian McKenzie that led to skipper Kieran Read’s second try. 

QUICK TAP: KIERAN READ PRAISES ALL BLACKS DEFENCE

McKenzie had earlier scored one himself and had a hand in Read’s first try. I wasn’t convinced when he first came into the All Blacks last year that the diminutive McKenzie was up to Test match standard, but he’s proven me wrong in spades.

He is superb on attack, and brave under the high ball and on defence.

All Blacks selector Grant Fox told me McKenzie was always creative, but the coaches are working on areas where “he gives things away”.

“What you’ve seen in the last two test matches in particular is some real growth in that area. He’s moving on the upwards curve, which is nice.”

As for Barrett, it seems ridiculous that just a few weeks ago people were questioning his place in the starting fifteen and wondering if he was a true Test first five-eighth.

Sure he was, like the All Blacks, pretty average in the second half, but the Test had already been won by then with the All Blacks ahead 29-3.

He probably had half an eye on Cape Town and was wondering if he’d be starting there.

Barrett wasn’t meant to be in Buenos Aires. He was meant to spend the week at home and then get a head start to South Africa along with Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Liam Squire, Ryan Crotty and Sam Cane.

But Lima Sopoaga stayed behind for the birth of his first child so Barrett was on the plane to Argentina. He didn’t disappoint - for the first 40 minutes at least.

“We’re lucky he plays for us and we’re not trying to defend against him because he’s got a full range of skills,” Fox said.

“He’s a freak and when you add speed to his skill set that’s pretty special.”



Fox says while a lot of fuss is made about Barrett’s attacking genius, his improvement on defence has been largely overlooked.

“He’s been rock solid on defence. He gets through a mountain of work and makes some pretty solid tackles. That side of his game is in good shape as well.”

Coach Steve Hansen will be pleased the All Blacks won, but frustrated at how they fell away in the second half.

Some of that could be jetlag, and that won’t improve with the trip to South Africa but that’s the reality of the modern era and won’t be used as an excuse.

It does, though, explain and in part justify the decision to leave five players in New Zealand who arrived in South Africa a few days ago ahead of the rest of the squad.

The calculated gamble also allowed others like Luke Romano, Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu to get some game time.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tawera Kerr Barlow was again overlooked. He’s off to France but it is strange that while the All Blacks haven’t moved on to another player, they persist in giving the World Cup winner no game time.

Fox says there is a gap back to the next best halfbacks after Kerr Barlow, TJ Perenara and Aaron Smith.

He hopes someone will emerge from next year’s Investec Super Rugby competition.

“We’ve got our eye on one or two guys and if we have to go there, we will go there, and we’re confident that whoever gets that opportunity - if it happens - will do a good job.

“But ideally we’d like them to have another Super Rugby competition under their belt.”