The Barbarians have celebrated their 125th anniversary and are possibly more important to rugby now than ever. People may think that sounds crazy when you look at moments like Gareth Edwards scoring ‘that try’ against the All Blacks.
But with so much riding on every game these days, the Barbarians are an important link to rugby’s traditional values.
Rugby has changed beyond recognition since that game back in 1973.
For a start, it is now professional. Players are under constant pressure to train hard and win, at whatever cost. Also the sheer amount of competitions, leagues, cups and Test matches has exploded. All in all, it’s a tough and serious business.
So where can the Barbarians fit into the modern game?
Well, rugby must make sure the famous club remains alive and well to celebrate another anniversary. If it’s up to the players, I know they would all give the great institution their full backing. Twice I had the privilege of pulling on that iconic black and white jersey.
The first was against Australia at Wembley in probably the greatest line-up of players I had ever been involved with.
Richie McCaw, Bryan Habana, George Gregan, Joe Rokocoko, Bakkies Botha, Jerry Collins. Great players, great venue and great rugby. It’s what the Barbarians are all about.
Having spent my career chasing these guys around a field for 80 minutes, it was great to get a chance to live, train and play alongside them and just enjoy their company.
Of course, everyone talks about the social side of the Barbarians and, I must admit, that’s great. Again, they’re like an old-school tour which you rarely get the chance to enjoy these days.
It doesn’t get out of hand, though. I was never made to run naked through a town centre like I was when a youth player. But everyone enjoyed a beer – some even before games.
That’s not to say players didn’t want to win. The spirit of the Barbarians is to work hard, play hard and make for an entertaining spectacle for all to enjoy.
It’s great to see guys like Richie McCaw, who put their bodies on the line every game of the season, to play with a smile on their face, try a couple of things they wouldn’t normally dare to and generally revel in the chance to play without fear of losing the game – or their job.
My second game for the Barbarians, in 2012, will always stay with me. It was my last appearance at the Millennium Stadium and against Wales.
I jumped at accepting the invitation to play before having any idea where we were playing. When I asked who were facing, the first thing I thought was: “How the hell is this going to go down? Another farewell and against Wales!”
But it was a fantastic occasion. The crowd were great, it was an open and flowing game, just the way I always loved to play, and a chance to be out there with the lads. I loved every second. Had it not been for that spoil-sport Martyn Williams pulling me back, I would have scored my only try for the club.
But rugby must cherish what the Barbarians stand for, what is represents and the rugby it provides for players and fans alike. Long-live the Baa-baas.
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