Bar­bar­ians match had a role, but no longer does in the mod­ern game

Satur­day Com­ment

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

n 1996 I was in Cardiff 10 days be­fore Christ­mas. In 1997 I was in Ed­in­burgh 18 days be­fore Christ­mas. And in 1998 I flew home from Lon­don just two and a half weeks be­fore Christ­mas.

Why the hell am I telling you all that? Well it has less to do with me than it has to do with the other blokes who were in those cities and do­ing the same things at that time. The Spring­boks fin­ished their 1996 sea­son against Wales in Cardiff on De­cem­ber 15, the fol­low­ing year they fin­ished on the 7th, and so on.

The point of all that is that it’s not as though to­day’s Bar­bar­ians game against Fiji is see­ing the South Africans – and New Zealan­ders – in­volved fin­ish­ing the sea­son later than we have ever seen south­ern hemi­sphere play­ers fin­ish their rugby year in the past. But then back in 1996, 1997 and 1998 the Su­per Rugby sea­son didn’t ex­tend to Au­gust, and the TriNa­tions con­sisted of just four matches for each team.

Those who have par­tic­i­pated in them will tell you Bar­bar­ians games still have their place. John Smit spoke af­ter­wards of how spe­cial it was to rub shoul­ders with and get to know long-time op­po­nents such as Ge­orge Gre­gan and Richie McCaw when he was in­volved in one of those games a decade ago.

And hav­ing at­tended a few my­self, I can tell you they are usu­ally fun games to be at, al­though there have been oc­ca­sions, such as when the Boks played the Baabaas in Dublin in 1994, where they’ve hardly been played in “Bar­bar­ians spirit”.

Which is what wor­ries me about to­day’s game. The Bar­bar­ians are play­ing Fiji, pos­si­bly the hard­est hit­ters in the tackle in world rugby – out­side per­haps their South Sea neigh­bours from Tonga.

Does Heyneke Meyer re­ally need his play­ers to be risk­ing their limbs when they should be en­joy­ing their first week of a well-earned break?

I do know what Meyer thinks of it, be­cause he told the me­dia peo­ple who had gath­ered for a post-sea­son wash-up ses­sion at the team ho­tel in Mont­par­nasse last Sun­day in no un­cer­tain terms what he felt. He thought it was crazy, and it is hard to dis­agree with him.

To that end, per­haps the most sen­si­ble mes­sage to hit my in­box this week came from the Blue Bulls. Their CEO Barend van Graan laid out his rea­sons for not al­low­ing Flip van der Merwe to

Iplay in the game. He said this was an im­por­tant part of the Bulls’ pre- sea­son, and al­though Van der Merwe would have been rest­ing to­day and not train­ing, he is right.

There is such a small win­dow in the year for play­ers to get proper rest and re­cu­per­a­tion, fol­low­ing a hard sea­son and in prepa­ra­tion for the next, that ev­ery avail­able free minute should be glee­fully grabbed.

With another tough Su­per Rugby sea­son on the hori­zon, Van der Merwe’s em­ploy­ers were right to pull him out of a match that suits no- one other than the play­ers who swell their bank bal­ances by some­thing like £10 000.

That’s R165 000 for 80 min­utes work, so in an­swer to the in­evitable ques­tion, yes of course I would take it if I had the op­por­tu­nity. But it shouldn’t be up to the play­ers; their unions should take the de­ci­sion away from them like the Bulls did with Van der Merwe.

Of course there are New Zealan­ders in­volved in to­day’s game too, but take a look at the All Blacks who are play­ing and com­pare them to the Spring­boks. The Kiwi con­tin­gent is not made up of the most cru­cial and over­played mem­bers of the side, like the Bok con­tin­gent is.

If any­one should be smil­ing to­day it should be Steve Hansen, the All Black men­tor who is coach­ing the Bar­bar­ians. He gets a chance to get in the minds, how­ever briefly, of the top Bok play­ers, and it’s mostly the guys who rep­re­sent the team that con­sti­tute his big­gest ri­vals that will be at risk, not his own key play­ers.

Jean de Vil­liers, at the end of a busy year, will be lead­ing the side. It may sound like a huge hon­our for him to be cap­tain­ing the Bar­bar­ians, but he is al­ready cap­tain of his coun­try. If he gets in­jured to­day and joins Eben Etze­beth on the side­lines when the Storm­ers start their Su­per Rugby cam­paign next year the hon­our will have come at an un­ac­cept­able cost to his em­ploy­ers. It’s id­i­otic.

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