WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Auckland Blues have pulled off a major coup by signing All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett on a four-year contract, enticing him away from the Wellington Hurricanes and securing the playmaker they have needed for more than a decade.
The twice World Player of the Year, has also signed a new deal with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) that runs until after the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Barrett’s wife Hannah is from Auckland and local media had reported he would be moving there permanently anyway, with the Hurricanes holding out hope he might commute to Wellington during the Super Rugby season.
“There were many reasons but ultimately it’s a family decision, it was the best thing for Hannah and I,” Barrett told reporters in Auckland on Friday.
“It is a big thing to sign anywhere for four years but the underlying thing was that I wasn’t ready to go offshore and I knew that I had plenty left in the tank to give New Zealand rugby.”
The 28-year-old’s contract allows him an extended break after this year’s World Cup and before he joins the Blues midway through the next Super Rugby season, while he also has an option to pursue a short-term deal in Japan.
Barrett said he had considered commuting from Auckland but felt that he could probably only sustain that for a year.
“It was certainly a possibility, but family is first in my opinion, no matter what job you are doing,” Barrett added. “Commuting for four years would put a strain on any job.”
Barrett’s move to the Blues, who won the last of their three Super Rugby titles in 2003, could help spark an upturn in the team’s fortunes after a moribund decade.
They have not made the playoffs since 2011 and have consistently been the worst-performing New Zealand franchise in the intervening eight years.
The Blues have struggled to find a flyhalf capable of driving the team around the field since Carlos Spencer left in 2005 and they almost enticed All Blacks great Dan Carter to the team towards the end of his career.
“It’s huge for our club,” Blues coach Leon MacDonald said.
“As well as getting a world-class player, our young first-fives will flourish with the opportunity to train and play alongside Beauden, and I am sure he will be an immediate fan favourite at Eden Park.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)