Ofisa Tonu'u.

Ofisa is a former All Black and Samoa international. As one of the most prominent halfbacks of the 1990s, Tonu'u won back-to-back Super Rugby titles with the Blues in 1996 and 1997.

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Tonu’u: Who will own the 10 jersey?

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Ofisa Tonu'u     22 Jun 2016     Getty Images

I learned that Israel Dagg still cuts it in the International game and that if you attempt to tackle high at this level, you will learn quickly that others have just a strong fend as your own. I learned that the All Blacks have an unmatched ability to lift intensity and change up a gear and that Kieran Read is growing as an on field leader and Captain. The other thing I learned was that while Beauden Barrett is a great impact player from fullback in the closing stages of a game, in his rugby heart of hearts, he desperately wants the All Blacks number ten jersey as his own.


In the post-Dan Carter era, most of the debate around who will succeed the great DC has focused on Aaron Cruden and/or Lima Sopoaga. However, Barrett displayed on Saturday that he wants to shake the impact player tag and prove to Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox that he is the man for the job.

In recent times, Barrett has carved a niche by coming on in the final 20-30 minutes and adding an attacking spark to the All Blacks from fullback. On Saturday, Barrett came on as an injury replacement for Aaron Cruden in the 30th minute and guided the All Blacks to victory from first five-eighth. 

Wales finished the first half on top and were looking dangerous until Barrett sparked a remarkable four-try burst for the All Blacks early in the second half. Wales had the All Blacks rattled with their rushed/outside-in defence system, but Barrett identified that, adjusted the attacking game plan from going wide early, and took on the 10/12 channel with his electric speed, which made space for the explosive ball-runners on his outside or even for himself. Barret hit the ground running on Saturday, and has made the All Blacks coaches and selectors take note. 

With Cruden likely injured out of the 23 for the final Test against Wales, the selectors now have to decide who takes the ten jersey. There will be plenty of calls for Lima Sopoaga to step into the role on his home turf, and rightfully so. But this is the All Blacks, and is an exclusive club. From a player’s perspective, Beauden will be disappointed if his name is not read out as the playing 10. Every player wants to be in the run on fifteen, it's what we train hard for, to run out in front of all your family and friends - especially home tests. 
It's that drive and competitiveness that makes the All Blacks great, and personally I think Barrett has earned the right to wear the number 10 jersey this week. Not only by his excellent form coming off the bench in both Test matches, but the fact he is a senior player, a Rugby World Cup winner and a proven match winner at Test level. Just like how Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, left a high standard of play and expectation in the number 7 and 10 jerseys, Barrett has done the same with the 22 jersey. He has set the standard for what an "impact player" is and I'm sure he would be happy to pass that on to someone like Damian McKenzie. The young Chiefs playmaker is looking for an opportunity to wear the black jersey with any number on it. He could be the next "Cleaner" (player who comes on and cleans up the mess and brings home the win).

This will allow Barrett to concentrate on tightening up on some technical areas in his game, in particular his kicking off the floor. 

I’m not wanting to spark a Cruden v Barrett v Sopoaga debate, because they are all three quality players and quality men. We all have our different views on how we want our pivots to play, and this extremely high standard has been set by predecessors like Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens, Carlos Spencer and just recently Dan Carter. What I’m merely looking at is who is going to take their opportunity, and establish themselves in that pivotal position.

Whoever is named tomorrow morning will be closely watched by all - including me.

Ofisa Tonu’u is a former All Black and Samoa international. As one of the most prominent halfbacks of the 1990s, Tonu’u won back-to-back Super Rugby titles with the Blues in 1996 and 1997.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author only.