What do you do when you have the world’s best out-half and he retires from international rugby?
For most rugby unions, this is the kind of scenario that sends terror through the ranks and causes fans to declare the end of the world.
This is where New Zealand Rugby Union found itself following the successful defence of their World Cup title last October when Dan Carter, arguably the finest ever out-half to play the game, announced his retirement from the international stage.
So has the rugby nation crumbled, despairing at the loss of their great man? No. They haven’t. The All Blacks are not the double defending world champions by accident.
As Dan Carter shipped off to France for a lucrative contract with Racing 92, the All Blacks turned to their next in line out-half, the vastly experienced Aaron Cruden.
Already a World Cup winner following his deputising for Carter during the 2011 World Cup, Cruden is a world class number 10 – the kind of player any nation would put on their team sheet first.
As an understudy to Carter, Cruden’s credentials have been overlooked outside of New Zealand. Carter did cast a long shadow, after all. Now, having stepped into the sun, Cruden is set to lead the All Blacks on the field in June when they welcome Wales for their summer tour.
With Cruden stepping up to the starting 15, Beauden Barrett and 21 year old sensation Damian McKenzie are neck and neck to fill the spot on the All Blacks bench. Barrett has already been capped over 30 times for New Zealand and is, like Cruden, a World Cup winner. Certainly not a bad understudy to Cruden then.
McKenzie is a rising star in New Zealand. Teammate to Cruden at Super Rugby side Chiefs, McKenzie is a prodigious talent. While Cruden occupies the number 10 shirt for club and country, McKenzie slots in a full-back for the Chiefs but such has been his impact, he has assumed kicking duties over Cruden.
Such is the depth of talent and experience in New Zealand that the substitute out-half position for the All Blacks is now contested by a World Cup winner and likely the long term future first pick number 10, who is for many, the most exciting out-half since Dan Carter himself.
Now, as if all this choice were not enough, yet another talented out-half has burst onto the scene. Jordie Barrett, brother of Beauden, yesterday introduced himself to the rugby world with a commanding display for the Under-20 All Blacks, or Baby Blacks as they are affectionately called, in a 30-10 victory over southern hemisphere neighbours Australia.
In their opening match of a two match Oceania Series, Barrett stole the show with a try, two conversions and two penalties. With the second test this weekend, the expectation is for another assured performance from the young out-half.
While the name Jordie Barrett is unknown to the rugby world in Europe, this will soon change as with New Zealand’s Under-20’s World Cup squad being named after the second test, the assumption is the younger Barrett brother will be on the plane for next month’s tournament in the UK.
With New Zealand pooled with Georgia, Wales and Ireland, and with the Wales summer tour of New Zealand, northern hemisphere rugby fans are about to learn just how seamless the transition into the post-Carter era has been and how spoiled for choice the All Blacks really are.
For a nation where rugby is religion and to be ordained in black, the highest honour, is it no wonder the next messiah is waiting to rise?