The 37th Australian player to raise 50 Tests for the Qantas Wallabies, which he achieved at the Millennium Stadium last December, BERRICK BARNES has never known an international season quite like last year. He surpassed 100 Test points for a year for the first time, gained a new role when played from fullback, became a Dad on the eve of a Test, and then played a man-of-the-match hand for Australia against Wales less than 24 hours after the birth of his son Archie.The veteran of two Rugby World Cups had headed into June under pressure arguably as Australia’s fourth or fifth choice playmaking option after injuries had rubbed out the Test incumbent James O’Connor along with other possible selections: Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper and the uncapped Christian Lealiifano.Barnes could not have responded better. Maligned after struggling to ignite an under-performing NSW Waratahs side, the 27-year-old thrived back in the Wallaby fold, combining superbly with halfback Will Genia and inside centre Pat McCabe to tactically steer the Wallabies to a 3-0 series win over the Grand Slam-winning Welsh. The series was notable for Barnes’ courage in the second Test where, having left the squad to return to Sydney the night before to witness the earlier than anticipated birth of Archie; he made it back to Melbourne just before the team departed the hotel – and proceeded to perform with poise as the Wallabies snatched a last-gasp 25-23 win to secure the series.He continued to excel in adversity during the inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship despite constantly being forced to switch positions due to Australia’s injury ravages. Barnes started the tournament at flyhalf against the All Blacks, then played the next two matches in his old position of inside centre, which took his career appearances in that position to 31, making him the country’s ninth most capped midfield back. This was followed by the surprise switch, which saw Barnes find himself at fullback for the first time in Tests, having only played the position in club Rugby prior. He handled that transition with ease – before succumbing to injury himself after puncturing a lung during a nasty collision in the Test against South Africa at Pretoria.Barnes returned off the bench against France at Paris before performing solidly from the back as the Wallabies wrapped up their European venture with a hat-trick of wins against England, Italy and Wales. Along the way, Barnes kicked his eighth dropped goal in Tests to go past Mark Ella for the third most dropped goals landed by an Australian in Tests.Featuring in 13 of the 15 Tests played by the Wallabies last term represented the heaviest work load Barnes had undertaken from his six years wearing the Australian jersey, with the increase being in part because of an almost trouble free run with injury, but also because of the consistency of his performance. This was most notable with his goal-kicking, which has thrived under the tutelage of the ex-Springbok and Stormers flyhalf Braam van Straaten, who has acted as a consultant to Australian Rugby in recent years. Barnes kicked at 83 percent last term, which was his first as Australia’s predominantly first choice goal-kicker, sailing past 100 Test points for the year to more than double his career points tally.Included among his career points tally are eight dropped goals – two of which were posted last year – which eased him beyond the seven kicked by the ex-Wallaby captain Mark Ella, to rank Barnes as the third greatest provider of dropped goals in Australian Test history. The Barnes’ achievements are a testament to his courage in adversity, with the plucky former Queenslander having endured a wretched run with injury through recent years. He excelled on the 2011 Spring Tour after having struggled through that year due to a debilitating run of head knocks known as ‘Footballer’s migraine’, which helped limit the role that he had played at his second Rugby World Cup.Even then, the tour was not without mishap, with Barnes being forced to retire in the first half of the record breaking win over the Barbarians at Twickenham due to a nasty knock that was sustained when England lock Simon Shaw’s knee collided with the upper back and shoulder area of his torso. He recovered well enough to form a promising new combination operating outside of the new flyhalf James O’Connor as Australia beat Wales 24-18 in the 2011 season finale, although that partnership has not been sighted since, courtesy of injury to O’Connor.A product of Kingaroy in country Queensland, where he grew up playing rugby league, Barnes started off at the Brisbane Broncos in the Australian national rugby league competition. He spent two seasons at the club on a development contract, before switching to Rugby with the Queensland Reds. He played 45 games for Queensland across four years, making the Wallabies, before joining NSW and helping his new side to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011.His Wallaby introduction came at the 2007 World Cup, scoring two tries off the bench on debut against Japan. He has subsequently led both Australia and the Australian Barbarians in midweek matches, while also leading both Queensland and NSW on occasion during his state career.Barnes led the midweek Wallabies against both Leicester Tigers and Munster during the 2010 Spring Tour, being one of the busiest players on the trip, in that he featured in all seven games, starting in the final two Tests, against Italy and France. Barnes kicked eight from nine against Italy at Florence on that tour, adding a further 11 points when he returned to the city last year. This took his career tally against the Azzurri to 35. Only Michael Lynagh (46) and Matt Giteau (45) have tallied more playing that nation in the Australian jersey.Fast Fact: It was almost fitting that Wales should be the opposition for the 50th Test in the career of Berrick Barnes. Not only were they the opponent for his first run on Test at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, last December’s match was the seventh time Barnes had played Wales, with only New Zealand and South Africa being a more frequent opponent during his Test career. Three of the eight dropped goals kicked by Barnes in Tests have come against Wales, including one in his maiden Test start.
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21 MAY 2013