Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, raises a glass to the Barbarians and their old school preparation and says even though World Rugby has done the right thing – other people might not.
There were 62,546 people at Twickenham on Saturday to witness the Barbarians play the All Blacks in what pretty-much amounted to a New Zealand trial. To be honest we wondered what we doing there reporting on the game which, on the face of it, did not amount to a hill of beans.
Whoever sold all those tickets would walk The Apprentice and be straight on Alan Sugar’s payroll for getting so many people into what looked like a dead duck.
The All Blacks had no Kieran Read, no Aaron Smith, no Ben Smith, no Sam Whitelock, no Brodie Retallick and no Dane Coles.
But they still had 23 blokes who wanted to impress boss Steve Hansen and there were a few others on the paddock who have designs on turning up in Japan in 2019 wearing black at the World Cup. It was a reminder that however good the All Blacks are there are plenty more where they came from but they were not the stars of the days.
The invitational side also had 10 Kiwis in their starting line-up some of whom will be joining the main squad for the rest of their European tour.
And the stars of the day were the men in the black and white, not in black, for reminding us what rugby used to be like.
The Barbarians preparation, as it does every time you see then play, threw another spanner in the works of those who want players to act like robots.
There were two Premiership players on display, one a Kiwi and one a South African, and it is a pity that none of the English lads experienced some good old fashioned rugby.
The current England internationals had been in Portugal all week but it would have been invaluable for some fringe players to see what the Barbarians is all about.
In 2013, someone called Elliot Daly played for the Barbarians against the British & Irish Lions in Hong Kong. That trip, and the other games, led by his club boss at Wasps, Dai Young, was a less-than-sober affair and Daly hasn’t turned out too bad.
The latest squad, in true Baa Baas tradition, had only been together for five days and had spent the first two them on the lash into the early hours. One player couldn’t remember who the last man standing had been on these massive sessions because he was too pie-eyed to know. He played all right on Saturday by the way.
But despite the beers and the lack of training time they still put on a show and ran, the admittedly second-string, All Blacks close in losing 31-22.
They ran the ball from most positions, still did the basics in a party atmosphere, and scored four tries.
It was not exactly 1973 stuff – Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and John Dawes were unavailable but it was good stuff.
And all this on a diet of beer, a Halloween party on Tuesday night, a couple of run-arounds at Latymer School in West London and a few talks from Robbie Deans and his coaching team which included the current Crusaders boss Scott Robertson and Will Greenwood.
Robertson knows how to party. Anyone who saw him break-dancing on the pitch when the Crusaders beat the Lions in this year’s Super Rugby final can attest to that. And by all accounts the Barbarians had a ball.
And boy the coaches made sure they didn’t overload their players with information. They knew the squad could play a bit and they told them to do just that.
It helps if you have some good players to start with and on Saturday the brilliantly nicknamed flanker Kwagga Smith, the fly-half Richie Mo’unga and full-back George Bridge were stand-out performers for the Barbarians. And the Bristol flanker Steven Luatua, who the All Blacks did their best to keep at home, was a proper handful.
You can imagine certain coaches, with five days to get ready for a game, having the boys on the training pitch at 6am and making sure lights were out at 9pm. Ok this was not a proper Test match, not even a Premiership or Super Rugby game, but there was a certain amount of pride, and potential World Cup places, at stake.
Deans is a canny old sod. You don’t win five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders if you are a mug and you can bet your bottom dollar he doesn’t let the players at his Japanese club, Panasonic Wild Knights, out on the sauce twice a week.
But for one week only he put away the flip chart and let the players let rip.
As he said: “It’s the players’ game and sometimes coaches forget that. We produce stress when in actual fact if we retained this element the players would rise to the level you want. There’s a lot of lessons in this sort of experience.” There are a few well-known coaches who would be wise to take this on board.
And Smith told us: “In the week we bonded very much and we had a few beers together and that brought us together. In the normal game we make it much too complicated and it doesn’t need to be. For us it was just express yourself.”
After a post-match session the Barbarians headed off to Ireland where they will play Tonga in Limerick on Friday. And they won’t get much sleep before then.
And brilliantly the Baa Baas have now got a women’s team who will be playing the black-and-white on the same night at Thomond Park. It is a throwback, it is old school, it should be inducing us to a fit of the tut-tuts but the Barbarians are brilliant and long may they continue.
Don’t expect Eddie Jones to start kicking his boys out of Pennyhill Park to The Foresters boozer just down the road but the Barbarians reminded us there is more than one way to skin a cat.
And there is more to rugby than 6am gym sessions, recovery shakes and tucking yourself under the duvet with your lap-top to study Saturday’s opposition.
For Andy Ellis, the New Zealander who captained the Barbarians and has won 28 Kiwi caps, it was like stepping into a time machine and being a kid on the local park in Christchurch again. He enjoyed himself – isn’t that what it is supposed to be all about?
“From day one when everyone comes together there’s a nervous energy and by day two everyone’s best mates, arm in arm, having a great time together,” he said.
“Then come game-day there’s music in the sheds, and smiles everywhere. The way I like to describe it is I feel like I’m seven years old again and running out on Hagley Park in the frost playing rugby. That’s pretty special and hard to capture in the modern professional age.”
Going on the lash and giving it a lash won’t win you a World Cup but on Saturday it won the Barbarians 62,546 more friends.
If the Barbarians were last week’s good then the bad was the reaction to the recommendation of who should host the 2023 World Cup.
World Rugby appointed an independent board to scrutinise the bids of France, Ireland and South Africa and come up with a pointer for national unions to vote on, on 15 November.
South Africa came out on top, France were second and Ireland were out with the washing so the vote next week should be a rubber-stamping job.
If it is not then it makes World Rugby’s attempt to ensure the process was transparent a mockery but good on them for trying. They even published the report which came in at over 130 pages so fair play.
In the past, World Cup bids have been settled by horse-trading, whispers in the corridors, back-handers and the-you-scratch-our back and we-will-scratch-yours’ cobblers beloved of suits in the old days.
By all accounts it looks like South Africa have won this fair and square but that did not stop the Irish and the French going ballistic. France offered the most dosh and Ireland were hoping for the emotional vote – because they have never hosted the tournament – but it should be job and knock.
Not if you listen to them it is not.
Dick Spring, in charge of the Irish effort, said that they would not give up fighting even though half their stadia are not up to the job and as Stephen Jones said in The Sunday Times it was based too much on the ‘notion of partying’.
The French, whose bid launch was attended by RugbySpy, could probably put the tournament on tomorrow. Big Claude Atcher who is in charge was masterfully briefed and had every figure at his finger tips. France’s problem is they hosted the World Cup in 2007, and a brilliant one it was too, but this time it was close but no Gitanes.
Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation, was in full Bob Willis mode as he marked out his long run and labelled the independent evaluation ‘incompetent’.
We don’t often do this but World Rugby have done the right thing this time and anything else other than a vote for South Africa will stink.
Otherwise we will be back in the land of brown envelopes, and games being hosted all over the place to secure votes, when the best World Cups are always the ones held in one country.
But in the Byzantine world of rugby administration it would not surprise us if one of the outsiders did get home. A week is a long time in politics, two weeks is an eternity in rugby politics.
Pass me the envelope.