Tank Lanning

BaaBaa fixture must stay

2008-09-05 02:09

Tank Lanning

"Kirkpatrick to Williams. This is great stuff! Phil Bennett covering, chased by Alistair Scown. Brilliant, oh, that's brilliant! John Williams. Pullin. John Dawes, great dummy. To David, Tom David, the half-way line! Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! What a score!"

The above a direct quote from match commentator, Cliff Morgan, describing "that try" by Gareth Edwards in the game between the BaaBaas and the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms Park on January 27, 1973. Perhaps one of the best games of rugby ever played, and certainly one of the greatest tries ever scored.

Gareth Edwards said of the match: "People tend only to remember the first four minutes of the game because of the try, but what they forget is the great deal of good rugby played afterwards, much of which came from the All Blacks. For us after the success of the 1971 Lions tour, which captured the imagination of the whole country, it was an opportunity to bring a lot of that side together again."

The All Blacks lost 23-11 to the Barbarians that day (translating to 27-13 in today's scoring system), their only defeat of the tour.

Loved the culture

Sensational and stirring stuff. To my mind, the Barbarians represent everything good about the game of rugby, and as such, I cannot wait for the game on Saturday. But is there space in this money fuelled pro-rugby era for this fixture?

Up front, a junior history lesson, courtesy of the all-knowing Wikipedia.

A fellow by the name William Percy Carpmael loved the culture behind rugby tours and came up with the idea of regular short tours. At the time there were no tours and players just 'packed up' in March until the following season. So in 1890 he took the Southern Nomads on a tour to the north.

The scheme received instant support and the concept of the Barbarians was agreed upon. They went on to beat Hartlepool Rovers 9-4 on December 27, 1890 in their first fixture.

Bishop of Bloemfontein, W.J. Carey, an original member, gave the team the following motto: Rugby Football is a game for gentlemen in all classes, but for no bad sportsman in any class.


The concept took hold over the years and the Barbarians were asked by the Home Unions to raise a side to play the touring Australian side in 1948. This started the tradition of the Final Challenge - played as the last match in a tour of Britain and Ireland by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

So by Wikipedian definition, the "BaaBaas" are an invitational rugby union team who play in traditional black and white hoops, with players retaining the socks from their "home" club strip.

Membership is by invitation and the only qualifications are that the player's rugby is of a high enough standard and that he should behave himself on and off the field.

Traditionally one uncapped player is selected for each match.

The club philosophy is based on attack with flowing running rugby with lots of tries, particularly in contrast to early Home Nation sides dominated by forward play.

Manage players

But the Barbarians tradition isn't as it used to be in this professional era, given a few factors: Many see the club as an anachronism. There is a call for better player management, and thus fewer games, so it is difficult to justify yet another fixture at the end of a long season. Traditional tours seem to have all but disappeared from the rugby landscape. European clubs, given that they are responsible for their players salaries, are not prepared to release players to play in BaaBaa fixtures. So throw all this into the pot, and it looks like we have something akin to the unicorn right here.

But I say let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater people! I may be one of the dinosaurs living in cloud cuckoo land, but we just cannot afford to see a tradition like this disappear.

Jake White, in his book "In Black and White" speaks of the need to manage players in different ways. This in reference to Schalk Burger, who is seemingly not a big fan of the gym or pre-training stretching. Yes - something a lot of us old school players can relate to. But he is the guy who insists on having a beer with his opponent at the post-match function, and he is the guy who gets picked up by Jerry Collins on the Wednesday before a Test match to go and have a meal or a few cold ones with him and a few mates. He has rugby friends in every city he plays in.

No cake walk

He is no doubt influenced by his old man, Schalk Burger senior, who is a rugby traditionalist of the highest order, but given that he is the first man Jake picks in his Bok side and that he has been picked as the IRB Player of the Year, Schalk junior cannot be doing too much wrong on the pitch. And to my mind, he is living proof, that in this era of ice baths, chicken sarmies instead of cold beer in the changing shed, Sunday recovery swims, beep tests, fat tests and psychologists as part of the management team, it is possible to hold onto a few of the amazing traditions that make the game of rugby great.

So I was really chuffed to see the squad that BaaBaa coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, will have at his disposal for the match this weekend. It will certainly be no cake walk for the world champs. It's also really cool to see that the two uncapped players in the squad are from South Africa - Peter Grant and Schalk Brits. Only the addition of Luke Watson would have added more spice!

Perhaps awarding international caps would be one solution, but to my mind, we really must find ways to keep the BaaBaa game in the modern rugby mix.

  • Tank is a former WP tighthead prop and now Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.

  • Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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