Kinspan Venue Familiar: Qera
When Fiji take on the famous Barbarians at Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium, on Saturday, it’s safe to say the old ground won’t look too familiar to their coach or captain. Coach John McKee, whose varied CV includes stints in France, Australia, England and Tonga, well remembers visits to what was then Ravenhill when he was an assistant to Michael Bradley at Connacht. “I really enjoyed my time in Ireland,” he recalled. “My wife is from Mayo so the time I spent there was very good rugby-wise but also for the family. “I can well remember a few trips up to Ravenhill to play Ulster, there were some great contests. They had a great tradition then but it was looking quite tired back in the early 2000s. “I came here with Tonga to play Ireland ‘A’ a few years later and the improvements were looking good then and there’s been a lot done since. It’s a top class stadium now.” Skipper Akapusi Qera’s visits to Belfast have been less frequent but he was part of the Gloucester team that took home a bonus-point win from a Heineken Cup game in 2007. He says the vast improvements to facilities for visiting touring teams bodes well for Ireland’s 2023 World Cup bid. “I have good memories here from playing Ulster. The supporters really back their players and some will be there for the Baa-Baas,” he said.
“It looks good now. If the World Cup was to come here it would be great for Ireland rugby.” The Barbarians, who are captained by Ulster’s own Dan Tuohy in tomorrow’s clash with the Czech Republic - and he will be joined by his team-mates Ruan Pienaar and Tommy Bowe for Kingspan contest - are expected to turn on their customary style this weekend. McKee wants to see his side respond in kind, but also build the structures necessary for the remainder of their November slate. The 10th-ranked side in the world will also take on England before meeting Japan.
“It’s a traditional fixture and it’s one you don’t get many opportunities to play in,” added McKee. “The boys are really looking forward to it. The Barbarian style suits us as it’s a type of game we like to play. “Certainly we’re looking forward to their game in terms of how it’s played but it’s important for us as part of the November tour. We’re approaching it very seriously. We’re looking for a good performance to launch ourselves into the game against England.” Belfast Telegraph