Crossing the void
November 23, 2011
Willie Mason demonstrates his offloading skills against Wales © Getty Images
The Barbarians have featured some of the world's best players over the years and they continue their proud history against the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday.
Rugby league star Sam Tomkins has been named in their ranks to face the Tri-Nations champions and he follows in the well-trodden path taken by other cross-code legends from around the world. Controversy, emotional finales and World Cup beaters, it's all here in this week's Scrum Sevens.
Mat Rogers made his union bow for the Barbarians against Australia in November 2001 before he had even played a club match in the 15-man game following his switch from league side Cronulla Sharks to the NSW Waratahs. Rogers had previously played union in school and was one of eight new faces in the party to face Australia as they came to the end of their tour.
Despite the fanfare around Rogers' debut, the match itself failed to live up to expectation. The Wallabies ran out 49-35 winners and despite the scoreline suggesting an epic, the majority of the Barbarians' points came at the beginning and the end of the match and despite the Barbarians' reputation for throwing the ball around and attacking at a whim, they played a forward orientated game, under the guidance of Bob Dwyer, much to the disgust of the crowd packed into the Millennium Stadium.
Rogers went on to play 45 games for the Wallabies and turned out for the famous invitational side again - in December 2004 against the All Blacks. Rogers started at fullback but was unable to prevent the Kiwis from completing an unbeaten tour of the Northern Hemisphere that season.
Australian speedster Tuqiri had a more conventional entry to Barbarians rugby compared to fellow cross-code convert and Wallabies team-mate Rogers as he had already turned out for the national side at the 2003 World Cup. And the former Brisbane Bronco made his Baa Baas debut in the loss to the All Blacks in December 2004 in a select side laced with Australian internationals.
Despite the likes of Tuqiri, Matt Giteau and Chris Latham appearing in a strong backline, with Tuqiri lining up at outside centre, the Barbarians fell to the Kiwis 47-19. But it would not be the final time Tuqiri lined up in a match featuring the Baa Baas. In December 2008, he played for the Wallabies against the international select side at Wembley where he was on the winning side and also ran in a try in the process. He went onto play for the Waratahs in the 2009 Super Rugby season before transferring to the Leicester Tigers on a short-term deal. Tuqiri is now back in Australia plying his trade in rugby league for the Wests Tigers.
The Brisbane Broncos winger made the high profile switch to union side the Queensland Reds in time for the 2002 Super Rugby competition having crossed the line an impressive 110 times in 189 appearances in league. His debut for the Wallabies soon followed in June 2002 where he appeared alongside fellow league convert Rogers and made an immediate impact. Similar to Rogers and Tuqiri, Sailor appeared in the 2003 World Cup final and continued to carve up defences for the Wallabies until 2006. And despite his career in union ending in controversy with a failed drugs test, Sailor turned out for the Barbarians in 2005.
And it was against England that Sailor made his one and only start for the Baa Baas. An England side featuring the likes of Tom Voyce, Paul Sackey, Andy Goode and Louis Deacon had no answer to the rampaging Barbarians as they ran in eight tries in response to the Red Rose's five. Sailor grabbed a brace on the day - alongside a double from Bruce Reihana and Brent Russell with Carlos Spencer and Trevor Halstead also touching down.
The rugby league star is someone who never shies away from the public eye and his move to union was shrouded in controversy. When Mason signed for Toulon - on a deal worth a reported £1.6m - he was under contract with Hull KR, though they released him once they found out the 31-year-old had paid a visit to the Top 14 side's supremo Mourad Boudjellal.
And he went on to appear for the for the Baa Baas against England on May 29, 2011. His only real contribution was to catch Henry Trinder with a high tackle but he had a chance to redeem himself a week later against Wales at the Millennium Stadium. This time Mason excelled in the closing stages of the match as he set up two tries through his notorious offloads.
Mason's Toulon career is yet to reach the heights as previously expected with the centre only starting one match for the Top 14 side to date.
One of England's favourite sons, Robinson starred in league for Wigan before making the switch to union where he joined Bath. However, it was at Sale where he will be best remembered after joining the Edgeley Park side in 2000. Robinson also starred on the international stage where he scored in the 2003 World Cup final and also made a huge impact on the British & Irish Lions' tour of Australia in 2001.
In 2007, Robinson announced his retirement from the game but he missed the final of the World Cup through injury in what was set to be his final match. But he was called up to the Barbarians for their December 2007 clash against the reigning World Cup holders the Springboks. Although Robinson failed to cross the line, he lit up Twickenham with a series of his trademark mazy runs and played a key part in their historic 22-5 win over the Boks in what was his last professional match.
Sonny Bill's move to union in June 2008 caused huge uproar back in Australia. He was turning out for the Canterbury Bulldogs at the time and left 18 months into a five-year deal to journey to Toulon and join the Top 14 big-spenders with Mourad Boudjellal footing a reported £300k transfer fee. After a season of transition on the Mediterranean coast with Toulon, Williams was named in the Barbarians side to face Australia on June 6, 2009.
Although he was yet to play in New Zealand or feature for the All Blacks, Williams' inclusion was received with huge media fanfare. Despite his best efforts, Williams' debut on Southern Hemisphere soil in the union form of the game failed to live up to its billing as the Wallabies ran out 55-7 winners.
Despite his underwhelming debut for the Baa Baas, Sonny Bill returned to home soil to join the Crusaders in 2010 and played a key part in the Kiwis squad which took the 2011 World Cup.
Welsh centre Scott Gibbs appeared for the Barbarians on three occasions with a spell in rugby league dividing up his career. By the time he journeyed to St Helens in 1994, he had already turned out for the Baa Baas twice and had secured his place in British & Irish Lions history having turned out for them in 1993. He made his Barbarians bow against Australia in November 1992 in London as the invitational side lost 30-20 to the Wallabies in the 'Final Challenge' of their tour of Europe. And this was quickly followed by an appearance the following year against the All Blacks in Cardiff where he was once again on the losing side with the Kiwis running out 25-12 winners.
And after his brief stint in rugby league, Gibbs returned to union and was named 'Player of the Series' on the Lions' tour of South Africa in 1997. He played one final game for the Barbarians against Scotland in May 2000. He lined up alongside the likes of Zinzan Brooke, Neil Jenkins and Lawrence Dallaglio as they played out a thriller. The Baa-Baas prevailed took the plaudits edging Ian McGeechan's Scotland 45-42 in a match which saw 12 tries and Joeli Vidiri crossing for a hat-trick.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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