Vanquished Victor defends beaten Barbarians
South Africa great Victor Matfield launched a far better defence of the Barbarians than the one his side managed on the pitch after their 60-11 thrashing by Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
It was not the way the Barbarians captain would have wanted to bow out of rugby in what was the 110-times capped lock’s last match before retirement.
Ever since rugby union turned professional, there have been questions about whether the Barbarians, the 15-man code’s leading invitational side and a club with its roots deeply embedded in the amateur era, could still function effectively against the world’s top Test teams.
But those doubts appeared to have been dispelled by the club’s recent Twickenham triumphs against New Zealand (2009) and South Africa (2010).
Lock forward Matfield, who played in the Barbarians’ 25-18 win against the All Blacks in 2009, was in no doubt of the worth of the fixture and the importance of the club’s ethos to modern-day rugby.
“When you come up for the Barbarians you don’t have a lot of training, so some days you click, other days you struggle a bit,” he said.
“Maybe the communication wasn’t there, there were one or two slipped tackles and then the other side get momentum and it’s hard to stop.
“Australia are a full international side and they know each other pretty well,” added the 34-year-old Matfield, now set to pursue a career in broadcasting and as a coaching consultant with former Super 15 side the Bulls.
“It was a fantastic week and, even though we lost the game by so many points, I will remember it for a long time.
“The Barbarians have two out of three now in the last three years against the southern hemisphere teams so why shoot them down after one bad game?,” added Matfield, one of rugby’s greatest lineout jumpers.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea and we need this in rugby. It’s the only time we really get to know the other top players.”
Matfield’s words were backed up by Barbarians coaches Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, fresh from guiding their native New Zealand to World Cup glory last month.
Hansen said the fact Australia were using this match as a warm-up for next weekend’s full international in Cardiff against Wales — the team they beat in the third place playoff at the World Cup — had a huge impact upon the result.
“Having coached a side that’s played the Barbarians and actually lost to them, after four Test matches in four weeks and then having a fifth game, it’s a lot different,” Hansen explained.
“I agree with Victor. The Barbarians concept is magnificent for rugby and we should hang on to it for as long as we can.”
An impressive crowd of more than 51,000 were at Twickenham to see Australia score eight tries to one — from England rugby league star Sam Tomkins — by the Barbarians, who traditionally encourage their players to run the ball whenever possible.
“They came to see people score tries,” said Hansen.
“Unfortunately, the ’wrong’ side scored them but there was plenty of them.
“By playing the style we played you make yourself vulnerable to turnovers and Australia scored a lot of tries through that.”
Henry, who bowed out as New Zealand coach after the World Cup, endorsed the Barbarians by saying: “This is a marvellous concept, a unique situation.
“We had 10 different countries represented in the Barbarians today.
“That happens in no other rugby team in the world and if we lose that, we are going to lose something special.”