On the up ... Berrick Barnes has regained his playing mojo. Photo: AFP
A YEAR ago, Berrick Barnes was pondering whether he had a future in the game. Several serious bouts of concussion had put his career on hold. Many expected him to retire.
Even just over a month ago, there were doubts whether Barnes would regain Wallabies status. Playing in an under-performing province does not help, but Barnes was fourth in the No.10 rankings, behind James O'Connor, Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale. If he was to make the squad, it would probably be as a dogsbody.
In the end, it all revolves around taking your opportunities. O'Connor, Cooper and Beale were suddenly no longer available. Wallabies coach Robbie Deans had to call on Barnes.
Australia complete clean sweep over Wales
Rob Horne makes a clean break. Photo: Anthony Johnson
It wasn't instant harmony, as Barnes was one of the central figures in the Wallabies' diabolical loss to Scotland in Newcastle. But, three weeks on, it is all sunshine and light after enjoying two man-of-the-match awards in a row, winning a Test match with his boot on Saturday and, in the middle of it all, a madcap Melbourne-Sydney return trip for the birth of his first child, Archie.
What has been most rousing about this Test interlude is the rebirth, of sorts, of Barnes. After the Waratahs lost their sixth match in a row, Barnes was dejected and despairing, way down on confidence. Now he is buoyant, laughing, alive, delighted to see everyone again. There was plenty of boot slapping and high fives after Saturday's win at a ground where, with the Waratahs, he has experienced so much pain this season.
As for his coach, there have been many delights watching a player regain his Test footing.
''Berrick had some significant challenges last year, physical ones which, potentially, was threatening his career,'' Deans said. ''He's back now and, credit to the whole group because we structure our game to play to the strength of our people, and benefited from that, as the team have from his contribution.''
Still, the big question is whether Barnes will stay as Test five-eighth when the international season resumes at the end of August. The cavalry is coming. Beale is back, and O'Connor and Cooper will play in the final rounds of the Super Rugby season. But at least Deans provided some encouraging signs for Barnes yesterday. There is weight in being the incumbent.
''Berrick has the advantage of what he has done this month,'' Deans said. ''But, hopefully, we will be confronted with choice because they [No.10 candidates] are all different, and bring different things. For Berrick to come out of this month with the confidence he has got is great. There is still quite a bit of footy to be played between now and then. And we will be watching it all.''
The Waratahs' season is effectively over but, for Barnes, how he performs against the Brumbies and Reds in their last two games will determine if the crusade continues.