AT THE TIME of writing, the All Blacks were down one game in the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Battered by host nation and third ranked France, 27-13, the once-formidable Kiwis were in the unusual position of having their backs to the wall. Sure, the three-time world champions rebounded with a 71-3 thrashing of Namibia (21). But they still needed to beat Italy (12), and then Uruguay (17), to progress to the quarter-finals.
Which they did… comfortably. The All Blacks now face Argentina (8) in the semi-final of the 2023 Rugby World Cup; one win away from a final appearance.
“There’s a huge opportunity for us,” says Beauden Barrett, the team’s star playmaker and Tudor watch ambassador. “From where we’ve been in recent years, there’s certainly been some tough times, some highs and some lows, but we’ve really formed a strong brotherhood. And amongst all that, we’ve had to do a bit of soul searching and ultimately figure out what type of game we want to play, and what type of strategy we want to utilise.”
The prized Webb Ellis Cup is now in their grasp. The team are two games away from being globally victorious, a defiant rebuke of the naysayers who’ve doubted them in recent times. That’s been the story of the team’s past 18 months, a turbulent period that’s seen them dip in world rankings, suffer a spate of injuries, sack two assistant coaches, and lose confidence in head coach, Ian Foster, who will step down at the conclusion of the World Cup.
Despite the turmoil, the team has found form in recent times, with victories over Argentina, Australia and South Africa to retain the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup, restoring some of the pride and ruthlessness that gave the team an aura of invincibility for so long.
In many ways, their arduous road back had only heightened public intrigue leading into this tournament.
Of course, the World Cup is a unique challenge, one that demands peak fitness and a collective understanding that only the team’s very best will suffice. Winning the tournament probably wasn’t a realistic goal for the team heading into 2023, but their recent run of form makes them a legitimate contender. This is, after all, the most successful international men’s rugby team of all time.
“This has been a good year for us and we want to be peaking, hopefully, in a World Cup quarter-final, semi-final and then final,” says Barrett. “If you make it to the playoffs, it takes three really big games to lift up the Webb Ellis Cup that everyone wants, which is no easy feat.”
Indeed it’s not, and it’s superstars like Barrett who have the determination and know-how to find that little bit extra in tight situations that will be relied on if the Kiwis are to progress further in this tournament. The star fly-half is an archetypal leader, one who very much embodies his sponsor, Tudor’s ‘born to dare’ tagline. The 32-year-old won the World Rugby Player of the Year award in 2016 and 2017, and in 2015, played a pivotal role in the All Blacks’ World Cup victory over the Wallabies.
“We’ve had to do a bit of soul searching and ultimately figure out what type of game we want to play.”
Raised in a family of rugby players, Barrett started his professional career in 2010 at just 19 years old. Two years later, he earned his first All Blacks’ cap. By 2016, he became the team’s starting Number 10, equipped with devastating speed, a laser-like boot and tactical smarts.
This year, Barrett has experienced the ebbs and flows the game inevitably doles out, suffering minor injuries that put his participation in this tournament in doubt for a while. But rest assured, Barrett is now fighting fit and ready to win it all.
“I’ve been working really hard on getting my body right and as fit and as fast and powerful as I can be,” he says. “I’m learning a few more tricks than what I needed to know in my earlier stages of playing. But ultimately, I’m just willing to contribute in any way I can for this team.”
Barrett and his teammates will need to draw on the team’s renowned unity and discipline to overcome the challenges they face from here. The Kiwis will encounter increasingly well organised defences the deeper they go in the tournament, but as Barrett knows, anything is possible in the game of rugby.
“For me and this team, it’s about expression and how we play and not second guessing ourselves,” says Barrett. “It’s about trusting our instincts and fully committing to whatever our instincts are telling us to do… not being afraid of consequences, because that’s when we play our best—the free-flowing style of rugby, which involves high skill and high speed.”
Tudor is the Official Timekeeper for the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. The tournament concludes on October 28.
*A version of this story appears in Esquire Australia, Issue 03, on newsstands now.