New leaders step up in All Blacks environment

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With injuries keeping flanker Sam Cane and hooker Dane Coles from the trip, and paternity duties for lock Sam Whitelock, halfback Aaron Smith and first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga, the leadership group faces an ongoing challenge through the Tests against Australia, Argentina and South Africa.


Vice-captain Beauden Barrett said centre Anton Lienert-Brown and hooker Codie Taylor had joined the leadership group. Both were natural leaders with their respective franchises, the Chiefs and Crusaders and were influential, he said.


But it was also an opportunity for young players to step up and lead as well.


"You work together as a leadership group. You set up the week on a Sunday and you figure out how you want to drive the team for that week with the coaches, so it's about getting that alignment, leading together as a unit and it's the first week at it, so we'll review it after the game and look to grow it as we go on through this tour."


He was also confident in flanker Ardie Savea's ability to lead the side.


"I've seen a lot of personal growth on and off the field with Ardie. I was lucky enough to play many years at the Canes [Hurricanes] with him.

"What you see is a strong leader who doesn't speak too much, but when he does, you listen to him. The way he expresses his words and feelings among the team is powerful.


"He's an absolute beast on the field, and that's what you want as a skipper," he said.


He and fellow vice-captain Brodie Retallick would do what they normally did, which was lead well by their actions, drive standards and support Savea.


"Nothing too much changes, it's just a title vice-captain but it is great to be acknowledged I guess," he said.


Barrett said they treated the first three or four days after arriving in Perth as a training camp before slipping into their usual Test preparation mode on Tuesday. He felt they had used their time well in getting the balance right between preparation and relaxation. As a result, they were now in Test week and focused on Sunday.


He said being in soft quarantine where they had no access to anyone outside was a unique opportunity for the team to get tight, roll their sleeves up and get into their work. That included not slipping off the pace in a dead rubber Bledisloe Cup game in what was also a Rugby Championship Test.


"We are aware of these games, and the number of times we've failed to have a clean sweep after a successful Bledisloe Cup, but we're here competing in the Rugby Championship and we want to build into that, so that starts on Sunday," he said.



The campaign should represent a chance for Barrett to enjoy an unbroken stint at first five-eighths, something that was made apparent to him in the week before the team assembled.


"There's been so many different moving parts, with a number of boys at home for family reasons, for injuries, a lot of balls in the air. It was quite late in the piece [that he was told Mo'unga wouldn't be travelling initially]. It was hard to confirm squads and movement of players, so it was probably the last week I was made aware he wasn't travelling, and a few of the other boys were in the same boat.


"If it eventuates, it will be a great opportunity for me. There's no hiding the fact there's a few of our experienced boys at home as well. We're seeing that as an opportunity for many of us," he said.


Barrett said it was a position he had been in before.


"That's something I can take a lot of trust and confidence from. With Richie not being there, Damian [McKenzie] comes in as another No10 option, so we'll work together to drive this team, it's not just a one-person job.


"I'm happy to be back focusing on my play at first five-eighth and, hopefully, there will be plenty of opportunities in the next few weeks.


"We understand we're away for a while, but we're not looking any further than taking on the Wallabies this Sunday. They've been sitting here waiting for us for a few weeks now, so we'll be ready to go," he said.


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