New Zealand’s endless production line of world-class No.10s is a result of the country’s natural running rugby style, according to Steve Hansen.
The All Blacks boss has an abundance of riches at first-five, with new star man Beauden Barrett backed up by Super Rugby guns Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga.
Chiefs prodigy Damian McKenzie is also staking a claim for a future spot at fly-half.
The quartet follow in the wake of All Blacks legend Dan Carter, widely considered one of the best first-fives of all time, and others including Carlos Spencer and Andrew Mehrtens.
Hansen said young players in New Zealand were given more of an opportunity than their peers overseas to get their hands on the ball and learn through trial and error.
This produced more inventive playmakers.
“Every good team needs your main computer, your No.10,” Hansen said.
“Rugby development processes in this country probably allow our guys to touch the ball more often than most and therefore make more decisions.
“Not always do they get those decisions right but they learn from the wrong ones.”
After spending much of his Test career as a super-sub, Barrett has emerged from a peerless Super Rugby campaign to make the All Blacks first-five position his own.
Even Hansen was surprised by the 25-year-old’s ascent, saying the Hurricanes star had developed faster than anyone had anticipated.
He compared Barrett to late All Blacks fly-half Nicky Allen, who played two Tests in the black jumper before dying from a head injury in 1984.
“He’s just genuinely quick and can take advantage of the things he sees,” Hansen said.
“He probably doesn’t see more things than other people, he’s just got that out and out gas.”
The comparison was lost on Barrett, who knew little of the fleet-footed Allen.
But he was nevertheless pleased to hear Hansen’s kind words, saying his pace was something he worked hard to maintain.
The reigning Super Rugby champion has been directly involved in more tries than any other Rugby Championship player in the first two Tests and also gained 157 metres.
He will line up for the world champions again on Saturday against Argentina in Hamilton.
“At school I wasn’t quick, I was always doing the long-distance events,” Barrett said.
“It’s something through gym work, plyometrics, that I’ve built up throughout the years.”
However Hansen warned Barrett not to rest on his laurels, with so many able deputies waiting in the wings to pinch his jumper.
Goal kicking was an obvious area of improvement, with Barrett nailing only 60 per cent of his Rugby Championship penalties and conversions.
Cruden, who started the June series against Wales as first-choice No.10, was particularly hungry for a return to the starting XV.
“He’s not struggling with it but he’s disappointed,” Hansen said.
“He wants to start just like anyone else.
“When they get a go they’ll try to make the most of that opportunity – that’s what Beauden has done.”
Hurricanes teammates Dane Coles tried to take the mickey out of baby-faced Barrett but acknowledged the Taranaki native’s strong form.
He instilled confidence in his teammates whenever he touched the ball.
“He’s a cool, calm and collected character,” the 29-year-old Coles said.