Where there’s Will
Greenwood of The Telegraph inspires Baa-Baas’ final flourish
New Zealand were always going to be the winners of this frolicsome day out at Twickenham, no matter how the scoreline panned out. The NZ union pocketed a few million as a match fee, the All Blacks got a useful run-out with their mix’n’match side ahead of three testing internationals to come in Paris, Edinburgh and Cardiff, while, with 13 Kiwis in the Barbarian ranks, All Black head coach Steve Hansen was able to run the rule over a host of fringe candidates for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, even if the star turn was a South African, Barbarians flanker Kwagga Smith.
The crowd got their money’s worth, too, with switchback entertainment, full of thrust and parry, plenty of craft and graft, the Barbarians setting the pace as well as the tone with their vivid, concerted play, only to be undone by a wham-bam salvo of three tries in six minutes just before the mid-point of the second half.
“We got caught up a bit in the festival of the occasion but we adapted,” said Hansen. “This tour is all about growing for the future and we’ve started that. The tests will be much tougher. It is totally different when you go to Test level.”
Barbarians’ head coach, Robbie Deans, said: “The Barbarian spirit is alive and well. The jersey means a lot to these boys. We wanted them to play without fear and they did. This is right up there with Barbarians performances.”
There was no one more eagle-eyed than Barbarians flanker Steven Luatua. There were misgivings in New Zealand when Luatua announced that he was signing for Bristol. Those regrets will be even greater after witnessing his thunderous play, gobbling up interceptions and steaming clear, setting up George Bridge’s try in the 15th minute and making a nuisance of himself all over the field. New Zealand’s loss is Bristol’s gain. It was a shame to see him limp off in the 61st minute. The Barbarians, though, never did wilt, rounding off an impressive showing with a second try for Bridge, the Canterbury fullback, in the final play, one inspired by coach Will Greenwood. It was well deserved. They had been true to the shirt, having fun but performing with heart and steel right to the end.
There was a looseness as well as laxity in New Zealand’s play, a helter-skelter tempo that the crowd loved but which would have caused the All Black coaches to hold their heads in their hands. There was a mighty upfield surge from Vaea Fifita early in the first half that would have had them purring in the coaches’ box before the 25-year -old got carried away with his own prowess, swerved left, double-backed, ignored his better-placed team-mate, Ngani Laumape, and ended up running up his own backside. Fifita made some sort of amends with his try in the 35th minute. The flanker is raw but rich in potential.
New Zealand did pull themselves together, half-backs, TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett finally getting on each other’s wavelength to slice and weave through, creating the position from where Perenara himself touched down after a lovely burst and offload from wing Waisake Naholo.
But it was the Barbarians who thoroughly deserved their 17-10 interval lead, Richard Mo’unga scoring their opening try, and they came out in the second-half with the same gung-ho spirit allied to a smart footballing sense of possibility.
Within minutes the irrepressible Smith was once more leading the charge out of defence. The 24-year-old from Johannesburg may not be the biggest but he played with zest and zip throughout.
The All Blacks knew that they had to be tighter, brighter and punchier if they were to dampen the enthusiasm of the Barbarians and draw them in. At one point early in the second half Barrett complained to referee Nigel Owens that it was getting a bit “carnivally”.
The All Blacks knew what they wanted – it was time for business. No more loose stuff, kick for position, pressure, force mistakes, keep it simple. The three tries in six minutes just before the hour mark were all textbook. Inside centre Laumape smashed through Mo’unga for the first, Sam Cane burrowed over for the next while a rear-field cock-up allowed hooker Nathan Harris to romp over. From 15-17 to 31-17 in the blink of an eye.
The Barbarians refused to fade, Bridge latching on to a ball pinballing around to race through, the mob-like celebrations of his team-mates showing how much it meant to them all.
Scoring 5-0 Mo’unga try; 10-0 Bridge try; 10-5 Perenara try; 15-5 Carter try; 17-5 Mo’unga con; 17-10 Fifita try; 17-15 Laumape try; 17-17 Barrett con; 17-22 Cane try; 17-24 Barrett con; 17-29 Harris try; 17-31 Barrett con; 22-31 Bridge try. Barbarians G Bridge; J Savea, R Buckman (R Du Preez 68), H Vorster, V Aso; R Mo’unga, A Ellis (M Drummond 51); J van Rooyen (B Franks 46), A Strauss (A van der Merwe 61), A Moli (R Smith 46), S Carter (R Ackermann 53), D Bird (W Britz 50), S Luatua (D Hunt 62), K Smith, L Whitelock. New Zealand XV D Havili (L Sopoaga 46); W Naholo (M Duffie, 68), A Lienert-Brown, N Laumpae, S Tamanivalu; B Barrett (L Sopoaga 16-22), TJ Perenara (T Kerr-Barlow 46); K Hames (T Perry 56), N Harris (A Aumua 68), O Tu’ungafasi (J Toomaga-Allen 68), L Romano, S Barrett (P Tuipulotu 56), V Fifita, A Savea, J Kaino (S Cane 46). Referee N Owens (Wales).
At the double: George Bridge, Barbarians’ Kiwi outside-back, shrugs off Ardie Savea for one of his two tries against his countrymen