Yesterday a young England team beat the Barbarians at Twickenham by the embarrassing margin of 73-12 in front of a crowd of barely 30,000. As a contest it was little more than a training run-out. Danny Cipriani deservedly won the man-of-the-match award for kicking 11 out of 11 and in all scoring 33 points, whilst several of the ‘young guns’ impressed – Cowan-Dickie at hooker, Kieran Brookes at prop, Henry Slade and Elliot Daly at centre in particular stood out.
But impressed against what? An abject display by a supposedly star-studded Barbarians who frankly stank the place out – the spectators would have been justified in asking for their money back, in all honesty.
The match would have told Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team little in terms of the fast-approaching Rugby World Cup. Even for the England players there was no ‘win-win’ element to the outing. If you cannot throw the ball in straight and/or to the intended jumper at a lineout when there is effectively no opposition, as Cowan-Dickie didn’t on three occasions, that goes down in somebody’s book as a black mark. As did hat-trick try scorer Christian Wade, who would have had four to his name but for the fact, after an excellent finish, he only went and dropped the ball as he dotted it down over the try-line. For someone who had the media on his side after failing to make the ‘big’ England Rugby World Cup squad of 51, Wade probably did his cause terminal damage in that crazy moment.
More concerning is the state of the Barbarians. A splendid relic of the amateur era that now seems to have outgrown its raison d’etre and become irrelevant in the 21st Century, the question has to be asked as to whether it is worth the club continuing.
Formed in about 1890 by William Carpmael, it was intended as a ‘virtual’ club for which outstanding players would play, either in specific fixtures arranged from time to time, or go on tours together. It was –and is – considered to be a great honour for any player to be invited to play for the Barbarians and, down the ages, there have been some truly outstanding games and Barbarians tours (on which, of course, the social and boozing sides of rugby culture always came to the fore). There is also a tradition that there is one uncapped player selected for every Barbarians team and in the legendary 1973 game against the All Blacks – which included an early try by Gareth Edwards made immortal by Cliff Morgan’s commentary – the lucky man was Bob Wilkinson, the Cambridge University lock who went on to win 6 caps for England.
In the past twenty years there have been various attempts to reinvent or develop the club, but the truth is that, in the era of professional rugby, the Barbarians – and its fixtures’ place in the calendar – has been a shadow of its former self. A great idea which worked brilliantly once – and in rugby culture will always be retained with fond memories – but sadly the Barbarians concept has become an anachronism that is doing harm to its wonderful reputation.