Barbarians out to thrill Twickenham
December 2, 2009
Joe Rokocoko will face his former All Black team-mates © Getty Images
One of the most famous fixtures of them all will unfold at Twickenham on Saturday when the Barbarians assemble to take on New Zealand.
Cue misty-eyed reminisces of 1973; Cardiff Arms Park and Phil Bennett's sidestep. The class of 2009 will have to go some to get close to the heights scaled that day but there's some cast-list on display. The draw of the black and white hoops remains strong in the professional era, with a number of Tri-Nations heavyweights staying behind following their season-ending tours to pull on the jersey.
They will be led by a man on debut, Springbok lock Victor Matfield, who calls on a side dripping with talent and attacking ambition. It's going to be a cold one in London - some running rugby will be just the job.
The All Blacks have called on their fringe players, who have been tasked with ending their tour on a high after four Test victories. Last weekend's victory over France restored some faith in the game as an attacking spectacle and while the likes of Mils Muliaina and Dan Carter will be kicking back in the stands the All Blacks' side is still brimming with pace and flair.
Richie McCaw skippers the side, a signal of their desire to end the tour as they began it, with a win. This time last year McCaw was making his Barbarians debut in a tough meeting against Australia at Wembley and he will be all too aware of the difficulties that face the invitational side in terms of cohesion.
Many of the All Blacks started their workmanlike victory over Italy at the San Siro on November 14 and will welcome the opportunity to leave a reminder for the coaches ahead of next season's Super 14. Zac Guildford and Ben Smith man the wings, with Cory Jane starting at fullback after capping a superb season with a try in Marseille.
Stephen Donald starts at fly-half for the first time on tour and is partnered by the spiky Brendon Leonard, his team-mate at Waikato and the Chiefs. Tamati Ellison and Luke McAlister are the centres while Wyatt Crockett gets another chance in the front-row after his nightmare at the hands of Martin Castrogiovanni and the referee at the San Siro.
The Barbarians team is packed full of potential and all that remains to be seen is whether they can gel on the day. Matfield is joined in the second-row by Italy's South African-born lock Carlo del Fava while the back-row features three of the world's best in Rocky Elsom, Schalk Burger and George Smith.
Fourie du Preez and Matt Giteau have been installed at halfback by coach Nick Mallett and they will be charged with fashioning some room for a heavyweight centre pairing in Jamie Roberts and Jaque Fourie. One of the game's biggest sub-plots is out wide, where All Black cast-off Joe Rokocoko is named for the Baa Baas.
He will be out to show that his running game is as strong as ever alongside Wallaby fullback Drew Mitchell and Springbok flyer Bryan Habana.
Barbarians: Drew Mitchell (Australia); Joe Rokocoko (New Zealand), Jaque Fourie (South Africa), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Bryan Habana (South Africa); Matt Giteau (Australia), Fourie du Preez (South Africa); Salvatore Perugini (Italy), Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa), W P Nel (Free State Cheetahs), Carlo del Fava (Italy), Victor Matfield (South Africa), Rocky Elsom (Australia), Schalk Burger (South Africa), George Smith (Australia)
Replacements: Stephen Moore (Australia), Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa), Quintin Geldenhuys (Italy), Andy Powell (Wales), Will Genia (Australia), Morne Steyn (South Africa), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
New Zealand: Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Luke McAlister, Zac Guildford; Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard; Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, John Afoa, Jason Eaton, Anthony Boric, Liam Messam, Richie McCaw (captain), Rodney So'oialo
Replacements: Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Adam Thomson, Tanerau Latimer, Jimmy Cowan, Mike Delany, Sitiveni Sivivatu
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape
Move over, Castro - from falling off a chair to stepping off the team bus, Scrum Sevens recounts some of the strangest rugby injuries ever
Martin Gillingham on the latest from France and why the national side can learn a thing or two from Top 14 side Bordeaux Begles