Victor bows out vanquished

2011-11-28 07:14

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - It turned into a blue old day for Victor Matfield in his rugby swansong at Twickenham on Saturday ... and of course the colour reference had nothing to do with his beloved Bulls outfit many thousands of kilometres away.

The cosmopolitan team the retiring Springbok icon led were unexpectedly humiliated 60-11 by Australia, in what commentator Stuart Barnes rather politely called “not a great moment in Barbarians history”.

Perhaps the only positive thing you could say about the game staying in keeping with the spirit and tradition of this occasional fixture was that it produced nine tries.

But it would have been immensely more satisfying to all but the uncomplaining Wallabies supporters in the 51 000 crowd had there been a more even spread to the tally - it was a galling 8-1 in favour of this year’s champions of the last Tri-Nations competition.

The BaaBaas’ lone touchdown came just beyond the regulation 80 minutes, too, which at least left the game’s last rites fittingly in the hands of Matfield, who had a go at the conversion from the right touchline and in the best tradition of tight forwards barely got the ball to lift off the ground.

If Big Vic ever makes a surprise comeback, it will emphatically not be as a back-up place-kicker to Morne Steyn.

The moment did at least raise a belated smile among neutrals at the game, although it also summed up the broader ineptitude of the BaaBaas.

Luckily the match will quickly be forgotten and also do nothing to dim the legend of Matfield who, it must be said, was one of the better Barbarians players on view in terms of doing the staple duties he is renowned for - winning his lineout ball effortlessly, sometimes pressuring the opposition throw-in and making some decent close-quarters tackles into the bargain.

As Barnes noted: “He has put himself about ... even without his old mate Bakkies Botha.”

The other starting South African, Bryan Habana, did his best to be constructive and interested as well, although a too-common failing on his part these days - coming too far off his line in defensive situations to leave an exploitable hole  to the opposition - was evident in at least one instance.

But Matfield was powerless in his leadership capacity to breathe any semblance of fire into the bellies of most of his other team-mates, who looked reasonably close to a rabble at halftime (18-3 down) and only proceeded to worsen with Graham Henry’s understandable string of second-half changes to the XV.

 They were shambolic and lacklustre defensively, every now and then truly gifting the Wallabies tries as the depressing, “revolving door” showed no inclination at all to slow down and lock.

Especially disappointing, I thought, were most of the World Cup-winning All Blacks on view, who formed a significant part of the BaaBaas armoury: they looked suspiciously as though they were still suffering the New Zealand version of a “moerse babbies”.

An exception from those shores was Richard Kahui, who at least brought some late attacking vigour, elusiveness and urgency in his role off the bench.

Sadly by then it did little to redress the chronic lopsidedness of the fixture, now likely to be subjected to even harsher scrutiny as a sustainable entity on this ever more cluttered rugby calendar.

It was difficult to decide what to make, also, of a few occasions when tempers frayed and some cynical late or high hits went in, something not normally associated to any pronounced extent with the BaaBaas ethic.

What the tetchiness did do, arguably, was demonstrate that one side, at least, was not “only here for the beer” - the Aussies took some time to hit their straps, but when they did there was enough evidence to suggest they’ve taken handy strides in their quest to sharpen up for the bigger challenge of a Test in Cardiff against Wales next weekend.

That, mercifully, could be much more of a nail-biter, although injuries at Twickenham to Berrick Barnes and captain for the day David Pocock may cause some angst in the lead-up ...