Mallett claims underdog tag
December 4, 2009
Nick Mallett wanted six weeks, not six days to prepare his team © Getty Images
Barbarians coach Nick Mallett insists his side would be clear favourites to beat the All Blacks if they'd had a lengthier preparation for their Tour-ending showdown on Saturday.
As always, the Baa Baas benefit from a line-up full of global rugby superstars, but that advantage is lessened by a lack of cohesion in combinations and structure.
After an initial Tuesday training he labelled "a shambles", the Barbarians had their final serious shakedown on Thursday and left Mallett more impressed, but still realistic about the task ahead.
"I think individually if this Barbarians team were given six weeks on tour and we were playing this All Blacks team I'd say we would probably be firmly favourites for the game," Mallett said.
Mallett highlighted the lineout area as a prime example of the challenge facing his unfamiliar team.
"You get a guy like (Victor) Matfield who has 20 minutes of lineouts and hoping to win 80-90 per cent of your ball, which is what you need to be competitive. That's the sort of difficulties in this game in terms of organisation.
"That's to the benefit of the All Blacks. Even though that team hasn't played together much they have been involved in the All Blacks set-up on tour for six weeks and they are clear about their structure and organisation."
The Twickenham clash may well represent the old cliché of a team of stars facing a star team, according to Mallett, who was full of praise for his opponents.
"It's the hardest of all challenges to play against a New Zealand side because they are so well organised and defensively they have not conceded a try in this November series," Mallett said.
"The type of rugby they play is a Barbarians style of rugby anyway. They have some very good outside backs, great loose forwards, great cleaning skills, they are just a very experienced side and the form team over November.
"Probably not over 2009, I think South Africa was the form team overall, but at the end of the year New Zealand have had the best results."
Mallett has assembled arguably the strongest Barbarians side in recent memory, captained by Springboks lock Victor Matfield with six other Boks in the starting lineup including winger Bryan Habana, halfback Fourie du Preez and flanker Schalk Burger.
Wallabies Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Rocky Elsom and George Smith will also start, while 60-test All Black Joe Rokocoko will mark 20-year-old Zac Guildford on the right wing.
Their only concern was Welsh centre Jamie Roberts limping away from training.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks' second-stringers have largely trained together since their frustrating 20-6 win over Italy in Milan three weeks ago. Captain Richie McCaw bolsters the pack while Cory Jane shifts to fullback to form a back three with tour newcomers Guildford and Ben Smith.
Mallett's team talk would be simple, as he knew personal pride and the lure of beating the All Blacks was enough motivation.
"I think the players are mature enough to realise that if they are not up for the game they will get a thrashing. Australia beat the Barbarians in Australia by 50 points and that can happen with a scratch team that's a bit casual in their approach.
"We really have to hope this team won't be like that. The individuals who have been picked are competitive and they don't want to make fools of themselves, so hopefully we perform well."
When the Lions toured South Africa in 1974, some thought rugby could break down barriers. But John Taylor refused to make the trip altogether
"I think in a couple of seasons London Irish can be a genuine force and contenders for the Premiership." Tom Hamilton talks to Brian Smith
"I hate this talk of survival, we are going there to compete." Tom Hamilton talks to London Welsh's Justin Burnell and Matt Corker
The latest Week in Pictures takes in Madagascar, Nick Cummins and all the latest photographs from Super Rugby