Old ‘foes’ team up for Barbarians glory
Bok skipper and All Black coach look forward to some tough fun with Fiji
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.”
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.