Brilliant Beauden's performance level can only rise

New Zealand fly-half has had a fine World Cup even though he has been carrying a slight leg injury - and now he is free to be even better.

TOKYO, 9 Oct - It is hard to believe after two spectacular performances, which reminded everyone why he may be the best rugby footballer in the world, but New Zealand's Beauden Barrett could just be about to switch into a new gear.

The All Blacks' full-back, pictured, seemed in masterful form in the opening victory over South Africa in Yokohama, winning the Player of the Match award, and could easily have been handed the accolade in his second outing against Canada when he made 149m, carved out three clean breaks and left seven defenders trailing.

Yet for all that, it emerged this week that the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year had not been at 100 per cent in those matches and was nursing a minor leg injury. 

"I'm not quite there yet - short a clip (not quite ready to run flat-out)," Barrett explained when asked at the team base in Tokyo's Disney Resort about whether he had attained peak form.

The good news for the All Blacks, though, is that he believes he is over the "niggle" and feeling "pretty good", which is bad news for Italy on Saturday in their Pool B decider.

Italy have a dreadful record against New Zealand in the World Cup, having lost all five of their fixtures by an average of almost 60 points a game. They now face a match-winner who feels refreshed by his 10-day break and is sounding ever more confident about his switch from fly-half to full-back, which has enabled him to get his hands on the ball more often and given him more space to work his sorcery.

"I'm certainly enjoying the role, and everything's going fine," said Barrett, who added that he was "chipping away" at a couple of other unnamed aspects of his game. 

"It's great, Richie (Mo'unga, who's taken the No.10 jersey and is combining ever more sweetly with Barrett as a dual play-maker) and I have spoken, and we're figuring ways so we're not in each other's pocket and finding our own space."

Asked if he thought there was more to come from his ace, Ian Foster, the All Blacks' attack coach, smiled: "I hope so. You need your top players in the big matches, so everyone's focused on a growth-and-improvement mentality and Beauden's certainly one of them."

Beauden Barrett at RWC 2019
2 matches
160 minutes played
1 try
2 try assists
31 carries
198 metres made
14 defenders beaten
4 clean breaks
30 passes
2 offloads
8 points (one try, one penalty)

RNS ic/sg/pp/bo