Rugby Championship

New Zealanders confident of Barbarians' value

2017-11-03 10:10
Robbie Deans (Gallo Images)

London - It may be that a fixture between a 'scratch' side and the world champions looks out of place in professional rugby union.

WATCH: The grestest try ever scored!

Yet while there's something a touch quirky about Saturday's match between the Barbarians and New Zealand at Twickenham, it is worth remembering the 15-a-side code is built on one of the greatest sporting quirks of all: running forwards while only being allowed to pass the ball backwards.

Founded in 1890 by William Percy Carpmael, who was inspired by his own experience of playing rugby for Blackheath and Cambridge University, the Barbarians have never had a ground of their own and membership has been by invitation only.

Among their enduring traditions is an emphasis on attacking, running rugby, while all their teams contain at least one player yet to make a Test debut and everyone in a Barbarians side wears their own club or international socks, the club having none of their own.

Barbarians teams used to be mainly comprised of players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales -- with selection regarded as an honour second only to that of receiving a Test cap.

But in the professional era, fewer and fewer clubs within the 'Home Nations' are prepared to release their players for a game where prized assets might be injured.

As a result, the Barbarians have become something of a southern hemisphere select XV, especially during the European season.

Yet for Robbie Deans, the New Zealander in charge of the 'BaaBaas' coaching team this weekend, their enduring worth transcends the composition of any given matchday 23.

"It's a point of difference, from their routine, their competition grind and it's unique because it brings people together who would ordinarily play against each other," the former All Blacks fullback told reporters ahead of a team Halloween fancy dress-party featuring 'Batman' and a 'Power Ranger' at the squad's London hotel.

"The Barbarians really does capture the essence of rugby, everything that's great about the game."

And with some 65 000 spectators expected at Twickenham this weekend, the former Australia coach was confident fans would not be short-changed.

"We'll challenge them (New Zealand) - you never have it all your own way."

The risk of a 'blow-out' of the Barbarians being brushed aside by a better drilled team in an age where a converted try is worth seven points, has often been cited as a threat to the future of their showpiece matches.

Yet this has partly been offset by countries such as New Zealand using the fixture as a chance to blood promising players, while the competitive instincts of those selected for the Barbarians often kick-in.

Indeed when they last played New Zealand, the Barbarians won 25-18 at Twickenham in 2009.

Moreover 'blow-outs' happen in Tests too - New Zealand overwhelmed South Africa 57-0 in Albany this September.

Only last weekend the Barbarians, under the guidance of former Wallaby coach Alan Jones, ran Australia close before losing 31-28 in Sydney.

This Saturday there is even more direct national opposition, with powerhouse wing Julian Savea playing for the Barbarians against a New Zealand side featuring younger brother Ardie.

New Zealand scrumhalf TJ Perenara said representing the Barbarians had helped establish friendships that would otherwise not have existed.

"(South Africa's) Jean de Villiers, we had a scuffle the first time we played together, and because of that I didn't really like him," recalled Perenara.

"But then when I got the chance to spend some time with him in (a Barbarians) camp, I realised he's one of the best guys I've ever met in the game."

Meanwhile, for fans there is always the hope they can say "I was there" for the kind of magical moment that saw Phil Bennett, side-stepping audaciously near his own line, instigate the move that led to a try for fellow Wales great Gareth Edwards in the Barbarians' most celebrated victory, a 23-11 win over New Zealand in Cardiff in 1973.

Now replayed countless thousands of times on YouTube alone, that try is still widely regarded as the greatest in rugby union history, with seven players - six Welshmen and England's John Pullin - involved in a stunning length-of-the-field score.

Bennett, summing up what makes the Barbarians special, when yet again recalling 'the try' this week, said: "If I'd been playing for Wales, it'd have been into touch somewhere near the half-way line."

Read more on:    all blacks  |  rugby
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