Barrett eyeing All Blacks fly-half return after Japan stint

Tokyo (AFP) –


Beauden Barrett set his sights on reclaiming the All Blacks' number 10 jersey Wednesday as he prepares to begin a stint in Japan, which is battling a coronavirus surge.

The two-time World Rugby player of the year is set to return to his favoured fly-half position for Tokyo-based Suntory Sungoliath, the team he has joined for the upcoming domestic season after exercising an option in his New Zealand Rugby contract.

Barrett has spent most of the past two years playing at full-back for the All Blacks, with Richie Mo'unga preferred at fly-half.

But rocky results at last year's Rugby Championship, which New Zealand won despite successive losses to Australia and Argentina, have heaped pressure on coach Ian Foster.

Barrett, 29, said Wednesday his move to Tokyo was made with a place in the All Blacks' 2023 World Cup squad -- at fly-half -- in mind.

"For two years now I've been playing a lot of time at 15, so I've really enjoyed playing some rugby back at 10," said Barrett.

"I've got a little bit of work to do in slotting back into that role, but it's a role that I enjoy mostly and I'm most passionate about playing. So I'm working really hard on that, getting back into the groove and working on the combinations with my nines and my midfielders.

"I think you would probably expect me to play more at number 10, and that's certainly something that I'm aspiring to do back in New Zealand and for the All Blacks."

- 'Ready to adapt' -

Japan's Top League season is set to kick off on January 16, but the country is battling a wave of infections, with Tokyo reporting a record 1,591 new cases on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to announce a state of emergency on Thursday, which will likely have an effect on the maximum number of spectators allowed at sporting events.

Barrett regularly played in front of full stadiums last year in New Zealand, which has been widely praised for its coronavirus response, but he insisted he had no regrets about coming to Japan.

"Absolutely, I would still come" if given the choice again, he said. "The way that it's been dealt with here, I've been impressed that we're still allowed to do the things that we are."

"We have to be respectful of the rules and be very responsible. I'm hopeful and confident that we can have an uninterrupted season, but if things change, as players we must be ready to adapt," he added.

Barrett will miss the 2021 Super Rugby season but return to New Zealand to resume international duties with the All Blacks, under the terms of a contract he signed in 2019.

Barrett said he had offers to play in France but chose Japan in order to prolong his All Blacks career.

"I was considering all options and ultimately (it) came back to a four-year decision aiming to make the World Cup in 2023," he said.

"It was either completely go overseas or back myself to make the next World Cup. And in doing so, that gave me the opportunity to come here and play in Japan."