The Lions against the Barbarians game should have displayed all that is good about international invitational rugby, but it only served to see the disparities that have appeared between these two iconic sides.
While there are obvious differences between the two organisations, the mere mention of Lions and Barbarian sides brings to mind the greats of yesteryear; Barry John and Gareth Edwards, Gordon Brown and Willie John McBride, Ciaran Fitzgerald and Sir Ian McGeechan.
The Barbarians have been valiantly trying to keep that amateur era’s spirit alive, but have come under increased criticism lately for the famed team bonding drinking sessions which were so prevalent in days gone by. As an invitational side, one which is supposed to be the cream of the best of the rest, seeing the Baa Baas as shambolic as they were at Twickenham, and then as out muscled as in Hong Kong against the Lions is a sad sight.
The squad which was named, on paper looked impressive. Of course it didn’t have the depth and experience of the Lions team, but names like Rococoko, Yachvili, Ngwenya, Harinordoquy and Parisse to name a few should be looking to express the philosophy of what Barbarian rugby is about, to let lose and to play rugby the way it was meant to be played.
Against England, this did not look anywhere like happening. The home side with 9 players under 24 and 8 debutants looked far more comfortable than they should have been and the experience in the Baa Bas side should have neutralised any English youthful enthusiasm, but failed miserably.
England needed a stronger warm up match for what will be a demanding tour of South America, culminating in two test matches against Argentina and an out of sorts, uninterested Barbarian side did not do the fixture, or themselves justice.
The money spinning fixture in Hong Kong against the Lions was little better. Played in extreme heat and humidity, the Lions at least played a side where a self imposed alcohol ban was implemented. However, pictures coming out of Hong Kong prior to the game have not enhanced the Baa Baa’s reputation as athletes who could perform to an optimum.
Had Barbarians South African hooker Schalk Brits been red carded as referee Steve Walsh stated he would have been had it been any other match, the result would likely have been even more one sided than it was, and the fixture rendered even more meaningless than it turned out to be. It did not capture the rugby publics imagination the way the opening game of a Lions tour should have done.
A game against England or France, or one of the Pacific Island nations would have served as a better warm up for the Lions, with an England game also providing a fitting warm up before their tour.
The question now has to be asked among the Barbarian hierarchy; how long can the team survive with its present ethos? It would be a sad day if there was no longer a Barbarian team, but they have to be competitive and in this ultra professional era, they have to be representative of the modern game.
It seems it is no longer the honour it once was to pull on the black and white hooped jersey, and for them to continue as a meaningful entity the management need to ensure two things.
Firstly, the players who accept the honour to represent the Baa Baas must be as professional as they would be with their club, or on international duty. The management have to ensure this, and need to do away with the drink culture which has been eradicated from most other areas of the modern game.
Secondly, the style of play the Baa Baas have become famous for has slowly become fragmented to such a point that they are not seen as a team worthy for spectators to hand over their hard earned admittance money. This needs to be rediscovered and for the paying public to know they are going to get a side which will play off the cuff, flowing exciting rugby which will be worth the entrance money
It has now got to the point where the image of the once famous side is at rock bottom, along with their performances, and without change a great institution will be lost to the game they should be exhibiting.
image: © zoonabar