"It's fun. There is a barbaric nature to it": USA beast Danny Barrett on why he loves trampling rivals

Mens - Sydney
by Iain Payten

Blame it on the Barrett brothers.

It is a familiar enough refrain these days in Australian rugby, particularly on those cold, black nights where Beauden, Scott and Jordie pile on another bout of All Black misery.

But if you’re an Australian sevens player, or pretty much any sevens player on the world circuit, the pain you have suffered traces back to a different set of Barrett brothers.

Their names are Jim and Neil, and you’ve met Danny. Also known USA hard man Danny Barrett -  that Mack truck in stars and stripes who has almost certainly run over the top of you and all your teammates at some point over the last five years.

πŸ’₯ Boom boom Barrett! #Sydney7s.

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Barrett is the bearded “beast” of the USA sevens team who delights in steamrollering opponents as they try to stop him scoring on the World Sevens Series circuit.

In a world where hot-steppers and fast-feet largely rule, Barrett is an enforcer who much prefers to run at - and over  - people than than run away from them.

Barrett seeks contact like Avo man hunts schooners.

And already armed with the raw speed of Perry Baker and Carlin Isles, Barrett’s raw power has helped the USA emerge as a world force in sevens. 

So far this season, they’ve made the finals of the first three tournaments in the World Series, hold a share of the overall points lead and are one of the favourites to win the Sydney7s this weekend.

Baker is the man who collects gongs and headlines but Barrett’s fame is growing at home, too. 

A try the 28-year-old scored in Cape Town, where he trampled over two “roadkill” Kiwis, was featured on ESPN’s SportCenter famed Top Ten - a national countdown usually reserved for the likes of LeBron and Tom Brady.

This weekend at Homebush, as sure as night follows day, Barrett will give a rival a taste of his malicious intent.

And they'll have Jim and Neil to thank.

"I grew up with two older brothers. I was picked on for the majority of my life, and if we went home now I would still probably be picked on in some way or another,” Barrett told RUGBY.com.au this week.

“It never ends right? So I guess I learned early it’s good to try and get the upper hand. There is a still a bit of that in me to this day.

“And at the same time I grew up playing with a lot of Polynesian players. And as much I want to say they taught me how to step and evade, I am just not dynamic enough for that. 

"So sometimes it’s just easier for me being the bigger guy on the field to impose that physicality."

It was Jim Barrett who got a young Danny onto a rugby field in the first place.


Like his brothers, Danny grew up just outside of San Francisco playing every sport imaginable: American football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hurling and Gaelic football.

Sorry, did you say Gaelic football?

"I am a three-time national champion actually - fun fact,” Barrett says.

“I played it for my first three years at high school (years 9, 10 and 11). We did well. It was something fun to do in the summer.”

Barrett’s big brother Jim was a big lump of a lad, so when the local rugby club tapped him up to play, all the brothers followed suit. 

Letting go of his dream to be a millionaire major league baseballer, Barrett was now a rugby player and though not as big as his front row siblings, he made an impact at back row.

Barrett played American football all through high school too, and was good at it. He played offence and defence, special teams and even did the long snaps.

But compared to rugby, he found American football boring.

"I didn’t have the same passion for it,” Barrett says.

"Rugby was just more fun. I got to touch the ball, I got to tackle, I got to do everything that you don’t get to do in American football. It’s 'you block this guy and you stay on that and that’s all you get to do'.

"And then you wait another 45 seconds and then do the same thing.

"I was like 'that’s no fun, I want to touch the ball too. He gets to touch the ball 40 times a game'. I might get it four times a season.

"So rugby was kind of an outlet. For a lot of us it was just basically 'you get to touch the ball' and it was like 'cool, yeah, I want to touch the ball'. That’s where it started for us as kids.”


Like his big brothers, Barrett went on to play for the University of California and he won two national championships.

But it was standout performance for UCal in winning the collegiate sevens championship in his final year that saw the USA sevens program come knocking with a contract.

"I moved down January 5th 2014 and debuted at the end of the month in Vegas,” Barrett said.

Barrett’s arrival co-incided with Mike Friday’s arrival, an influx of young talent and, in the next couple of years, a steady rise in the fortunes of USA Sevens.

Having never finished a season higher than 10th in the previous 15 years, USA won their first title in 2014 in London (beating Australia) and then finished sixth in 2014-15.

Barrett's impact saw him called into the USA Eagles XVs side, too, and he played in the Rugby World Cup in England in 2015.

Barrett remained dedicated to sevens though and in the rare company of Sonny Bill Williams, backed up for the Olympics Games in Rio a year later.

With the talent of Baker exploding (he won the award for the world’s best player in 2016-17 and 2017-18) and Barrett among a core of ever-improving players, the USA have since grown into one of the big dogs of world sevens.

Barrett says the credit for the climb belongs to Friday and his staff, which included now USA women’s coach Chris Brown and ex England sevens captain Phil Greening.

"What they did for us was educate us on how to be a rugby player. We had the athleticism, we have always had it. But the smarts and wherewithal on what to do, and when to do it, and how to react,” Barrett said.

"They put a lot of it back on us. In American sports, a lot of it is: “This is what you do, so you do that and only that”. But they opened our eyes. It’d be like “why did you do that? Why did you do what you did?”.

"It was about making us make the decision and that’s so different to what the majority of us grew up with in American football, where it’s 'you block that guy, you block this guy, you run over there and then you block that guy'. 

"It has taken a little bit but we now understand we can make our own decisions. We’re grown-ups in rugby now I hope. So it’s a lot of credit to the staff.”

There are those who advocate the value of cohesion in sports and Barrett says that is also part of the USA’s overnight success, years-in-the-making.

"We have probably one of the more experienced teams out there,” Barrett said. 

"When we started when Mike took over, we only had a handful of guys with double-digit tournaments. Now we have six, seven, eight guys who are 30-35 plus and that is a big factor."

And there’s the Mack truck. You can have all the smarts and cohesion you want but if you have a guy in your team who runs over opponents like speedhumps, it helps.

At 100kg and 1.91m, Barrett isn’t even overly big but his intent is second-to-none.

Just quietly, Danny, you actually enjoy running over people don’t you?

“It’s fun,” Barrett says. 

"There is kind of that barbaric nature to it. It’s kind of like a wrestling-fighting kind of thing, where I have physically dominated my opponent. Physicality in rugby goes a long way. 

"You are going to impose your dominance and when someone gets up, they’re like 'oh no, here he comes again'. That little bit of mental fatigue could be the difference in the game. 

“Plus, there are only seven guys on the field, so if it takes three or four of them to tackle me then there’s another 30 metres of space for someone like Carlin or Perry.

"As long as my team is scoring, I don’t care who it is. As long we’re scoring and continuing to win games and get podiums, that’s all that matters. So if that means I have to run into a brick wall, then I will run into a brick wall.”


Barrett, says Friday, is the classic example of a fearsome guy on the pitch who is somehow liked by all off it. Including those he has buried moments earlier.

"He is uncompromising on the pitch, immensely powerful and immensely confrontational with everyone he plays,” Friday told RUGBY.com.au.

"But off the pitch he has a humility. He is very softly spoken. He is a very caring man, for those he plays with and those he plays against. He is a very different animal off the pitch to what he is on the pitch, and I like that about him as a man."

Friday preaches often that rugby’s best chance of success in the US is to have a presence in high schools, where kids can learn the game alongside gridiron and the other big “super sports”, and thus be able to return to rugby later in life.

For that they first need exposure to the game, and you don’t get much more exposed that Sports Center.

"I don’t think people realise, to get on those types of programs, to get on the Top Ten, is ridiculous for a minority game at the moment like rugby,” Friday said.

"We need to be positioned in the high schools for rugby to complement American sports, and to do that we need positive role models. Perry has done that, and Danny is doing that too." 


Barrett shrugs off his brief brush with fame, partly because of his humility and partly because the Sports Center host screwed up and called him “my boy Scott Barrett”.

"It was cool, but they got my name wrong, so I will take it for it is,” Barrett laughs.

"I am a huge Sports Center fan but I think it is bigger for rugby in America than anything.

"It’s cool to have that memory in the bank, but at the same time I want everyone around the country to understand my love affair with the sport as well.”

Simple fix on the name - you’ll just have to get back on the Top Ten.

"Yeah, right?” Barrett says.

"And this time get to number one.”

This could get ugly.