Why was the Hurricanes’ Jordie Barrett left out of New Zealand’s U20 World Championship squad? The official answer will have to do until the real answer can be given, writes Steve Deane
Life demands lies.
It just does.
As illustrated in the 1997 Jim Carrey movie Liar Liar, life goes all to crap very quickly when humans are forced to tell the truth in every instance.
From point blank lies to minor deflections, elite sport calls upon the entire spectrum of untruths on a near constant basis.
Saunter through the offerings of the sports media on any given day and you’ll encounter a breath-taking array of falsehoods.
There’s straight out lies:
“I’ve never taken performance enhancing drugs”.
“I didn’t mean to elbow him in the face.”
“I didn’t see the incident you are referring to” (widely known as the Arsene Wenger).
There’s formulaic fibs:
“We’ve got a huge respect for opposition and we won’t be taking them lightly.”
“First of all, I’d like to thanks the sponsors” (yeah, because banging on about cheap Chinese utes is exactly what everyone really first wants to do after a match).
“The coach has the full backing of the board.”
“We love Hamilton, it’s a great place to visit and we always enjoy our time here.”
Then there’s the minor deflections:
“We are not sure yet if we’ll drop player X for performing like a turkey.”
“I don’t read the paper or go on social media so I don’t really know what you’re referring to.”
“He’s settling in and playing a pretty key role with the Hurricanes so it’s sort of a joint decision to let him carry on doing that’.”
That last one sound familiar? It’s All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster earlier this week when asked if Jordie Barrett being omitted from the New Zealand U20s World Cup squad meant he was in line for an All Blacks call-up to face the Lions.
Foster’s answer was both completely crackers and entirely understandable. Anyone with a modicum of interest in Super Rugby would have noticed the younger Barrett brother shredding the competition on a weekly basis. At 1.96m and 96kg with the skill set of a first five eighths and pace to burn, Barrett is an absolute freak. He’s never played test rugby, but he’ll still be a vastly better player than anyone in the entire Lions’ squad.
At a pinch, he can slot into the backline anywhere other than halfback so, yeah, it’s an absolute dead certainty that he is being seriously considered for the test series – and that is why he isn’t playing in the Under 20s.
Foster knows that. And Foster knows that everyone knows he knows that.
“Yes” would have been the obvious answer, but it was an answer Foster was never going to give. Because he’s not allowed to. All Blacks culture – so revered for the unrivaled level of success it generates – dictates that Foster obfuscate.
He couldn’t just say “of course we’ll pick Jordie Barrett, the kid is a freak. No one really gives a blind toss about an U20s world cup, anyway, so why would we send him to that?”
Foster had to follow protocol, and that protocol is that the names of players picked for All Blacks squads are read out by a grey-haired white guy in a blazer at a formal naming session. It’s simply not Foster’s place to go anointing Jordie Barrett as an All Black before the bell tolls for him.
It is, however, the place of journalists to jump the gun well and truly. This time-honoured tradition was splendidly observed by a friend who was formerly a sports writer a few years back when he phoned an NRL player to congratulate him and seek comment about his selection for the first time in a Kiwis squad.
The player was stunned by the news, which wasn’t overly surprising as when the team was named the following day he wasn’t in it.
In that spirit, then, congratulations Jordie, you’re in the squad to play the Lions.
The same day Foster was being lauded for his masterclass in misdirection, Kiwis coach David Kidwell was slated for his honesty. Kidwell’s crime was to say what he was really thinking about Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor – that he’d probably still consider them for world cup selection despite the fact that they are coke heads – in an early morning interview. I added that bit about them being cokeheads for emphasis, while Kidwell qualified his thoughts by saying he needed to canvas opinion more widely with the key decision makers at the NZRL.
Later that day, Kidwell announced that Bromwich and Proctor would not be considered for world cup selection after all.
Kidwell was slammed – albeit via the entirely ignorable medium of talk radio – not only for the about face, but for being so naïve as to offer his honest thoughts in public before an official decision had been made.
Once upon a time, sport was genuinely pure. Corinthian F.C, perhaps the greatest association football club of the 1880s, was so intent on honouring the spirit of fair play that the team would routinely remove its goal keeper in the event a penalty kick was awarded against it. They believed that, had they been deemed to have infringed in such a crucial position on the field, then the decent thing to do was let the other team score.
130-odd years later we live in a world where the awarding of even the most blatant of free kicks is cause for entire teams to mob referees in protest, while those same players will think nothing of heading straight down the other end and swan diving in the box; where coaches are expected to fib, and those that do tell the truth are slammed for their naïveté.
So much for the glory of human progress.