WELLINGTON: Wellington Hurricanes coach Jason Holland has not been in doubt all season, but after Super Rugby Aotearoa ended at the weekend he was certain that Jordie Barrett would be the starting fullback for the All Blacks under new coach Ian Foster.
Barrett missed the Hurricanes' first two games of the domestic season with a shoulder injury that was bad enough that surgery was considered.
The 23-year-old returned for the third match and pundits, coaches and team mates credited Barrett for helping spark the side's resurgence as they won their next five games.
"I think the 15 jersey is pretty much sewn up as I see it," Holland told reporters on Monday when asked about Barrett's form, continuing a theme all season when he described him "streets ahead" of other challengers for the position.
Foster, who succeeded Steve Hansen last year after last eight years as his assistant, is scheduled to name his first All Blacks squad later this month.
While Barrett made the All Blacks in 2017, some of his decision making, particularly under pressure, was criticised.
This year, however, he has eliminated the more risky options while he sought to impose himself more and stepped up his defensive physicality.
His biggest challengers for the All Blacks' fullback position are likely to come from older brother Beauden, who is normally a flyhalf but has mostly been playing fullback for the Auckland Blues; the Waikato Chiefs' Damian McKenzie; and Canterbury Crusaders' Will Jordan.
The uncapped Jordan made arguably the biggest move in Super Rugby Aotearoa, where he impressed at fullback and on the wing and was the top tryscorer, made the most running metres, beat the most defenders and had the fourth most ball carries.
Both Jordan and the younger Barrett are likely to be named in the 'South' squad on Tuesday for the North-South clash on Aug. 29, which should be a pointer to Foster's thinking for later in the year.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)