All Blacks boss Hansen backs Barrett to be star of World Cup

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Beauden Barrett has been backed to boss New Zealand’s latest bid for World Cup history in Japan.

Barrett switched from fly-half to full-back for the All Blacks’ 23-13 victory over South Africa in Yokohama, a win that tees up the Kiwis to top Pool B.

The 28-year-old offers New Zealand an extra playmaking dimension from the depth of the backline, with Richie Mo’unga at 10 and the versatile Ryan Crotty at 12.

Barrett’s sheer pace and controlling guile helped steer New Zealand home, leaving assistant coach Ian Foster to wax lyrical on the accomplished Blues star.

Back in 2015 Barrett played second fiddle to Dan Carter, stepping off the bench in the big games. This time around he can be the main attraction, and Foster believes he can thrive amid top billing – and underpin New Zealand’s drive for a record third-straight World Cup crown.

Asked if he thinks Barrett is ready to own this World Cup, Foster replied: “Yes I do.

“He’s been building it for a while. He’s a key part of our strategy group, the way he prepares. I know how focused he is on playing well, but there’s a few others like that too.

“He’s helping Richie (Mo’unga) grow into the position he’s in too. He’s a part of encouraging and giving them confidence too.”

George Bridge and Scott Barrett scored the tries that ultimately saw New Zealand home, in a match where Springboks speed king wing Cheslin Kolbe dazzled throughout a stellar second-half.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen admitted his side had to toil hard before finding their rhythm, before insisting South Africa can still go on to win the competition.

No side has ever lost a pool match and progressed to become champions, but Hansen believes records only exist to be expunged.

“We’re one for one, so that’s pretty good,” said Hansen.

“We won didn’t we? So you’ve got to be happy with that. Were we perfect? No, but you’re never going to be at this stage of the tournament.

“That was the interesting thing about this game right from the get-go.

“We’ve come out on top of it and very happy that we did but there’s plenty of stuff we can work on.

“It was really hard for us early in the game in the scrum.

“The boys adjusted through the game, and got more fluid. But it’s always going to be a titanic struggle.

“You can’t strike if you don’t get TQB – which is top quality ball – at the set-piece.”

Asked if South Africa can still win the tournament, Hansen added: “I talked about this the other day. For us to win the tournament we’ve got to win every game.

“For South Africa win the tournament they’ve got to win every game, and we’ve got to do the same. And nothing’s changed in that respect after tonight.

“History’s a great thing but it’s there to be broken.

“Their mindset from now is that every game’s a final, and it’s the same for us. So yes, they can do it.”

South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus admitted his side deserved to lose, before insisting the Springboks can still go on and swipe the Webb Ellis Cup.

“They definitely deserved to win the game,” said Erasmus.

“I don’t think we can moan about anything, and we have to say well done to them.

“All credit to New Zealand when they had one opportunity to pounce they pounced. That shows a world-class team and we struggled to handle that.”

Asked if South Africa can still win the World Cup, he added: “Yes I think we can fight back, in the game we fought back.

“At half-time we were 17-3 down, and I’ve seen South Africa leak 50 points when we’re doing that much.

“So to be back to 17-13 and in their 22 close to scoring a try, there were stages where we really fought back well.

“If you draw New Zealand in your pool you’ve got a good chance of not topping the pool.

“And then you’ve got to go and fight back and be the first team in history to reach the final after losing a pool match. That’s the challenge now.”

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