The general consensus is that this past Lions series pitted the two best fly-half’s in the world against each other: Beauden Barrett and Owen Farrell.
England’s record equaling run of 18 consecutive victories under Eddie Jones, and New Zealand’s seamless transition of generation since their 2015 Rugby World Cup success, is testament to how adept both Farrell and Barrett are at guiding their team’s in the right direction.
The excitement heading into this series was to see how two outstanding individuals so ingrained with the habit of winning, yet so diverse as well, could steer their side and themselves into rugby history.
Beauden Barrett: The Calculated Individualist
New Zealand has little patience for an individual who believes he is above their own rugby law. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are held as possibly the two greatest All Blacks, but the well being of the result was always paramount to them.
Barrett is no different but that doesn’t diminish his sparkle. What has separated New Zealand from the rest of the world over the last decade is their decision making.
Often Barrett will run the ball off the first phase – why? Because that’s the right decision to make based on his own speed and the gaps that may appear in a defensive line.
His contentious try against Ireland in November 2016 was a prime example of how a drift defence can’t manoeuvre at the pace Barrett does at first receiver.
The cross kick, also used in that victory in Dublin last year, is another weapon Barrett has in his Arsenal. Used so effectively to allow Ngani Laumupe to score in the Third Test on Saturday.
The Lions can be awarded some credit in their attempts to nullify Barrett. Once the Lions found a way to temper Barrett’s running game, he had to vary his game. Ultimately his cross kick was not used effectively until the final Test once Barrett had perhaps realised his running game wasn’t as affective.
The frustration for the Lions is with someone this good, they will inevitable have several strings to their bow.
A negative accusation that Barrett does have to deal with is his goal kicking, which ultimately cost New Zealand the Second Test. Such is the usual dominance of the All Blacks that Barrett’s average conversion rate off the tee is often disguised.
That doesn’t take away from the player Barrett is though. To stop Barrett, you have to oppose him on a regular basis. Familiarity can regulate brilliance. But since no one is unlucky enough to play him more than twice a year there doesn’t appear anyone lucky enough to halt his genius.
Owen Farrell: Methodically Brilliant
There is something very Jonny about Owen. With some sportsman you know pretty much what they’re going to do, but that doesn’t mean you can stop it.
Like the man who wore the No.10 before him, Farrell is infectiously brilliant. Like he does for club and country, Farrell was often seen leading the Lions huddles. The man raises standards with his mere presence.
His attacking game has come on excessively the past two years. His willingness to take the ball to the line draws defenders and creates holes.
Farrell is not as flamboyant as Barrett, but what he does so well is find his team mates who are flamboyant and allow them to do what he can’t. It’s a mark of the player he is that he recognises the strengths of his peers and does what he has to for the team to be successful.
The one role he is guaranteed for whatever team he represents is goal kicker. Quite simply few come close, Farrell is the best kicker off a tee in world rugby. Fittingly it was his kick that won the historic Second Test, and who is to say he won’t be having more moments like that before is career ends.
The more the tour went on, the more it became apparent that Farrell vs. Barret was, in affect, a pointless exercise. A bit like trying to determine what’s a more dominant predator in the animal kingdom: a shark or a falcon.
Neither one trumps the other, they are each perfect for the environment in which they exist. Farrell and Barrett are no different. New Zealand demand you play a certain way and Barrett so naturally delivers.
Farrell on the other hand fits perfectly into the calculated percentage rugby the team’s he plays for apply.
The fact that both of them at points in this series were seen operating out of their preferred position is a mark of the players they are. Barrett at 15 and Farrell at 12, yet neither one’s impression on the game was altered.
Both will be 26-years-old at the turn of the year. Both at the peak of their powers. As rugby purists rather than trying to separate them, why not just bask in the brilliance that the two best 10’s on the planet produce.
“Main photo credit”