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The beauty of rugby's Barbarians
Mention the Barbarians to rugby fans of a certain age and chances are they’ll have a doe-eyed gaze as if they were reminiscing their first-ever snog.
Like that Carlos Alberto goal for Brazil from the 1970 World Cup final, Gareth Edwards’ try for the Baa-Baas against New Zealand three years later remains one of the most extraordinary feats of team endeavour in sporting history.
The score summed up everything the Barbarians stand for – creativity, spontaneity, verve and teamwork, an ethos they’ve maintained in the 41 years since and will continue to do so against an England XV on Sunday at Twickenham.
For those unfamiliar with the famous try, it goes like this: Just four minutes were on the clock at Cardiff Arms Park when Barbarians fly-half Phil Bennett fielded a booming All Blacks kick deep inside his own half.
The easiest thing would have been to punt the ball back, but the mercurial Welshman instead decided to embark on a jinking counter-attack.
The ball then went through six more pairs of hands before Edwards ran 40 yards to finish a move that has gone down in rugby folklore.
“What a score!” screamed the disbelieving commentator, the late Cliff Morgan, in sheer delight. “Oh, that fellow Edwards. If the greatest writer of the written word had written that story, no-one would have believed it!”
The players who created it might have been from different nations, with barely a training session together as a team, but they combined to produce one of the greatest tries in the history of the game.
The concept of the Barbarians was conceived in more opulent surroundings during an oyster supper at Bedford’s Leuchters Restaurant in 1890.
William Percy Carpmael, a Cambridge Blue and Blackheath player, loved taking part in rugby tours. His spin on the concept was to create a touring team comprised of players from different clubs.
They wore distinctive black and white hooped shirts, while each player donned the socks of his home club, a tradition which stands to this day.
Membership of the Barbarians was by invitation only, while the emphasis was always on attacking play, sportsmanship and camaraderie and the club’s biggest turning point came in 1948, when they essentially became the outfit we know today.
The home unions asked the Baa-Baas to raise a side to face Australia on the final match of their British tour, with the proceeds helping to fund the Wallabies’ trip back home.
A capacity 45,000 crowd crammed into the Arms Park to watch Australia win a tight encounter 9-6 and soon the Baa-Baas, the nickname as synonymous as their hooped black-and-white jerseys, became the last fixture on the itineraries of all touring southern hemisphere sides, in games billed as the ‘final challenge’.
The Baa-Baas have also given the capacity crowds an opportunity to see the world’s greatest attacking players side-by-side; from Serge Blanco, David Campese, Philippe Sella, Jonah Lomu and, of course, that man Edwards.
And their record isn’t shabby either – 84 matches, winning 42, losing 38 and drawing four.
That 1973 match is regarded as the Barbarians’ finest, with Edwards’ effort heralded as their greatest ever try.
In 2009, the Baa-Baas claimed only their second ever win over the All Blacks, as a brilliant Bryan Habana hat-trick inspired them to a 25-18 victory, proving that even in the modern professional era, the concept of the Barbarians is alive and well.
On Sunday, Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, James O’Connor and Hosea Gear – some of the finest attacking talents in the game today – will put on that famous Barbarians jersey and continue to keep the legend alive.
Can a young and inexperienced England XV upset Rokocoko and co at Twickenham on Sunday? Follow updates on Twitter by following @O2Sports