The old story goes that when Kevin Barrett hung up his boots, the man they called ‘Smiley’ was asked what he was going to do next. “I’m going to go breed some All Blacks,” Smiley replied, returning to the family dairy farm and setting to work.
By that stage, sons Beauden, Scott and Jordie had already been born, and how they’ve lived up to their father’s assertion. On Saturday night, they will become the first trio of brothers to appear in a Rugby World Cup final, all close to certain starters for the All Blacks ahead of a meeting with South Africa.
There are many tales of successful sporting siblings, from the Williams sisters to the Kelce brothers; the Waughs or the Charltons. But for three brothers to be so integral to a potential World Cup win is special. Smart international rugby coaches build their side around a spine of players from a single club; Ian Foster has been able to build his All Blacks around a single family.
Their rise to the top is a story of both nature and nurture. Smiley was a legend of Taranaki rugby, capped almost 200 times by the Bulls in the back five in the pack, while mother Robyn was a talented basketball and netball player. Growing up, the brothers would hone their skills on a patch of land in their sprawling backyard that they called the BCG – the Barrett Cricket Ground – with Smiley intent on making sure all of his sons had the skillset to play an all-court game.
“As youngsters playing in back yard, we only dreamed of being here,” Beauden Barrett explained earlier in the tournament. “’Mum was a pretty talented athlete herself. They all say our speed came from Mum and I guess the size and work rate from Dad.
“There was always work to be done. So we always saw Mum and Dad doing that, coming home cooking us dinner, getting us ready for school. So if you relate that to your rugby it’s about striving to be better, to be the best you can be."
By their teenage years, the trio could pass off both hands and kick with both feet, making them most of the space on the family dairy farm in Rahotu, an hour’s drive south of New Plymouth. Eldest brother Kane was pretty talented, too, just breaking through with the Blues when concussions brought a premature close to his career in 2014.
Beauden was first to break through, barely out of his teens when making a first Super Rugby appearance and only 21 when helping the All Blacks to a record win over Ireland on international debut. His role as the bench impact back was crucial to the 2015 World Cup win, while two World Rugby Men’s Player of the Year awards followed in 2016 and 2017 after stepping up to be Dan Carter’s fly half successor.
Of late, he has embraced his reinvention as an almost full-time full-back at international level – he has been outstanding throughout this World Cup, described as the “glue” in New Zealand’s side by head coach Ian Foster. He may lack the acceleration of his youth but there are few smarter backfield brains at this tournament. An impending deal with Toyota Verblitz will see Beauden move to Japan for at least a season, with the 32-year-old weighing up whether to extend his stay or return to New Zealand to try to make a fourth World Cup. This could yet be his last All Blacks hurrah.
To do it alongside his brothers will fill Beauden with immense pride. That either could have a claim to be the best player in the family will, too. Lock Scott has come on leaps and bounds since the last tournament, forcing apart long-time second row partners Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock after producing a series of unignorable performances. If his sending off in the final warm-up against the Springboks shows he still has the occasional rough edge, Scott has become one of New Zealand’s most consistent performers.
Jordie Barrett is probably the most talented of the Barrett bunch, possessing a blend of Scott’s size and Beauden’s brilliance. After starting his professional career primarily at full-back, his development as a top-class international inside centre - or second five-eight, as the Kiwis call it – has solved a problem spot for the All Blacks.
His ability to offer real carrying threat and add playmaking options as a second distributor makes him a vital figure on attack, while he has come on defensively, too. Jordie is leading New Zealand’s set-piece defence at this tournament, and made 17 tackles in a player of the match performance in the semi-final against Argentina.
“He was massive in defence, he attempted the most tackles,” defence coach Scott McLeod said of Jordie’s performance. “But the most pleasing thing for me was he actually applied pressure.
“He saw the pictures a lot earlier, he backed himself to go and do it and those around him supported that and he made quite a difference for us."
If New Zealand are to beat South Africa on Saturday, you somehow feel at least one of the three will be key. Beauden, of course, already has one World Cup winners’ medal, his late breakaway try putting the seal on back-to-back All Blacks’ triumphs in 2015. Come Saturday night, the Barrett mantlepiece could be gilded again, three more medals a fitting decoration for a remarkable sporting family.
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