Cross-code star calls time on eventful journey
Berrick Barnes has retired 13 years after his career as a Wallabies' starter was ignited by a surprise phone call while sightseeing at Cardiff Castle.
It would be bending the truth to say that the coronavirus scourge prematurely ended his enduring career for six teams across two codes but it certainly confirmed the finish line.
When Barnes tore a bicep tendon off the bone in February, he knew his body was telling him that was enough as he walked off the field in Japan for his club Ricoh Black Rams.
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Coming so soon after last year's nine month lay-off for back surgery, he flew home to Australia knowing more surgery was really just getting him in shape for a post-football life.
"I did a 'thank you' message to the club and Ricoh supporters for their website which has become my retirement because there's no chance of getting back to Japan in this climate," Barnes said.
Being in the sun and surf at Lennox Head on the NSW north coast also confirmed it was time to end those difficult seasonal separations when he'd pack his boots for Japan and leave wife Bec at home with their kids Archie, 7, and Matilda, 5.
"I owe this call to my family because I want to watch the kids grow up with the same sort of life and lessons I had as a kid in Kingaroy," Barnes said.
Skills and kicking coaching may be one of his things down the track but releasing his third The Ball and All podcast with sports business mentor Steve Condon is a detour in this crazy climate.
Barnes, 33, had substantial careers at five-eighth, inside centre or fullback with four teams, Queensland Reds (2006-09), NSW Waratahs (2010-13), the Wallabies in 51 Tests (2007-13) and Japan's title-winning Panasonic Wild Knights (2013-18).
All followed a heady first taste of the big stuff as a teenager with nine games in the NRL for the Brisbane Broncos in 2005.
"Playing for the Broncos and beside some of my childhood heroes (Darren Lockyer, Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva and co) was an absolute highlight and the chance to represent my country as a Wallaby is something I treasure," Barnes said.
His last game for the Reds in 2007 was the 92-3 disaster against the Bulls in Pretoria so even being picked for the Rugby World Cup at 21 later that year was a shock to him.
"I'd played some minutes off the bench against Japan but I was part of the 'double-dirties' (non-playing reserves) for the match against Wales so I paid my way into Cardiff Castle to do a bit of sightseeing with a tour group," Barnes said.
"That's where I got the phone call 'Bernie (Steve Larkham) has done his knee' and by 8pm that night I'm being told by (coach) John Connolly 'You're the starting No.10 tomorrow'," Barnes said.
He set up a try for Matt Giteau and handled himself with aplomb in a 32-20 win after the nerves calmed in front of 71,000 fans.
Rugby deeds are so often defined by Tests against the All Blacks. For Barnes, it always seemed like it was Wales.
"I played eight times against Wales and I reckon five or six of my best Tests were against them including the weekend Archie was born," Barnes said.
In 2012, Barnes wasn't even in the same city on the morning of the second Test against Wales in Melbourne because he'd flown suddenly back to Sydney to be with his wife for the premature birth of son Archie.
He scooted back to Melbourne, changed into his playing kit in coach Robbie Deans' team meeting, ran on and played a blinder as a game-controller and goalkicker from No.10 in the 25-23 cliffhanger.
"Robbie had a big influence on my career as my coach for 11 years with the Wallabies and Panasonic," Barnes said.
Barnes said he was "no fan at all" of the explosive events at the top of rugby's administration but had a strong word of advice for Australia's on-field health.
"My dealings have all been great with (Rugby Australia's director of rugby) Scotty Johnson and I believe the four-year contracts that many of last year's Junior Wallabies have signed will pay off big time," Barnes said.
"There's never been a better batch of young talent to come along since that 2006-07 period when you had Willy Genia, James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale, David Pocock, Matty Toomua, Quade Cooper, Christian Lealiifano and guys like that coming through the Australian Under-19s and Schoolboys ranks."
Originally published as Cross-code star calls time on eventful journey