Old ‘foes’ team up for Bar­bar­ians glory

Bok skip­per and All Black coach look for­ward to some tough fun with Fiji

Weekend Witness - - Sport -

LON­DON — Jean de Vil­liers hopes some of Steve Hansen’s man­age­rial gold dust rubs off on the Bar­bar­ians when he cap­tains the in­vi­ta­tional team against Fiji at Twick­en­ham to­day.

Hansen’s All Blacks have only lost one Test match in the last two years and De Vil­liers’s Spring­bok squad lost twice to the world cham­pi­ons dur­ing the re­cent Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

But South Africa cap­tain De Vil­liers and New Zealand coach Hansen now find them­selves on the same side for the Bar­bar­ians in a match that cel­e­brates the Fiji Rugby Union’s cen­te­nary.

And the 96-times capped cen­tre can­not wait to end his sea­son in style at “head­quar­ters”.

“It’s a great hon­our to be cap­tain­ing the Bar­bar­ians,” said De Vil­liers.

“The spe­cial thing is that it’s only by in­vite, so some play­ers never even get the chance to play. I’m just happy to be play­ing my sec­ond game for the Baa-Baas.

“Steve’s only lost one Test match in a two-year pe­riod, which is re­mark­able. He seems to get the best out of his play­ers and hope­fully he can do that for us this weekend.

“It is a fan­tas­tic oc­ca­sion for all the guys to come to­gether. The Bar­bar­ians have a proud tra­di­tion so we will want to put on a good show.”

De Vil­liers will be sur­rounded by plenty of fa­mil­iar faces, with sev­eral Spring­boks set to fea­ture in Hansen’s match­day 23, in­clud­ing Schalk Burger.

The flanker has en­dured a mis­er­able 18 months with in­jury and then ill­ness, but eased his way back into ac­tion with Western Prov­ince near the end of the Cur­rie Cup.

Hansen will also have a chance to field some of his lesser-used All Blacks at Twick­en­ham, the venue for the 2015 World Cup fi­nal, with the likes of wing Frank Halai, scrumhalf TJ Per­e­nara and lock Do­minic Bird all on hand.

And Keven Mealamu, the vet­eran All Blacks hooker who is set to start on the bench to­day, in­sisted ev­ery­one in the squad was itch­ing to put on a show for the crowd.

“Hav­ing fun is one of the first things Steve talked about,” he said.

“We’re go­ing to have a fun week, but as rugby play­ers we’re all about rep­u­ta­tions, so what we want to do is make a good im­pres­sion on the field as well.

“We want to make sure we can say ‘yes, we played well’, and we don’t want to let the jersey down.”

While the Bar­bar­ians are all smiles, Fiji have spent the build-up to the game work­ing out how to field the strong­est team they can as the match falls out­side the in­ter­na­tional win­dow.

The con­test is a re-match of the Fi­jians’ shock 29-9 win over the Bar­bari- ans at New­cas­tle Gos­forth in 1970, but Fiji team man­ager Joe Browne said his side were up against it af­ter see­ing a host of play­ers re­turn to their clubs fol­low­ing last weekend’s 26-7 de­feat of Ro­ma­nia.

“The game against Ro­ma­nia was, as we ex­pected, re­ally tough up front and they bat­tled us all the way to the wire,” said Browne, who has lost many of his top play­ers.

“The night­mare is mak­ing sure that we have re­place­ment play­ers for the match against the Bar­bar­ians … we have our fin­gers crossed.”

— Sapa-AFP.

PHOTO: GETTY

Spring­bok cap­tain Jean de Vil­liers, who is also lead­ing the Bar­bar­ians this weekend against Fiji at Twick­en­ham said he’s glad to be on Steve Hansen’s team for a change.

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