South African hookers are rarely associated with the misty-eyed romantics of Rugby Union, and certainly not after their team have lost.
Nevertheless John Smit, who captained the Springboks to World Cup glory last year, described his first Barbarians match, Wednesday’s `11-18 defeat by Australia at Wembley Stadium in London, as an “awesome experience”, according to Rugby365.com.
The 30-year-old veteran of 81 Tests added: “The highlight was getting to know some of the guys you go hard at every weekend, spending three days with them and then getting a chance to play with each other.
“It was awesome but we are disappointed to lose. I thought the intensity was as tough as any Test I’ve played, it was pretty fierce out there.”
In other words, a match which by custom is intended to exhibit attacking rugby is not the same thing as an exhibition match.
The Barbarians, formed in 1890, seem to embody a very English sort of amateurism, having no ground of their own and being reliant on invitations from other clubs and unions for their fixtures.
And players chosen to don the Barbarians’ distinctive black-and-white hooped jersey must normally do so wearing their own club socks.
This tradition was jettisoned for the first time on Wednesday, however, with Cornwall socks worn by all the Barbarian players.
This was to celebrate the centenary of Australia’s victory over the Great Britain team, represented by the southwestern English county Cornwall, for the rugby gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics.
But there was nothing amateurish about a crowd of nearly 44,000 paying good money to be in north London on a cold midweek December evening – an attendance figure that treasurers of even leading professional clubs, and indeed some Test nations, can only dream about most of the time.
The fixture also marked the 60th anniversary of the first Barbarian climax to a United Kingdom and Ireland tour by Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, which began with a match against the Wallabies to help raise money for the 1948 Australians to fly home via North America.
“There is a huge amount of history and tradition that goes with the Barbarians,” said South Africa World Cup-winning supremo Jake White after his first match as their coach.
“When you think a guy like George Gregan [the former Australian scrumhalf] played 139 times for his country and this is the first time he’s played for the Barbarians, it just re-emphasises how important the Barbarians is and how important history is in Rugby Union.”
The Barbarians, whose opening score by Wales scrumhalf great Gareth Edwards in their 1973 win against New Zealand in Cardiff is widely acclaimed as the greatest try of all-time, were once mainly reliant on British and Irish players when it came to their showpiece matches.
But given an increasingly congested fixture schedule – for example this weekend sees the resumption of the Heineken Cup, European club rugby’s premier competition – southern hemisphere players have been to the fore for the Barbarians in recent times.
“The timing of the match is always difficult. But there was a good smattering of players out there,” said former Australia coach Eddie Jones, White’s assistant on Wednesday, with unusual understatement.
But for Smit, what the ‘BaaBaas’ do off the field remains as important as what they do on it.
“Rooming with [New Zealand captain] Richie McCaw, I don’t think I would ever have predicted that one and here we are, teammates.
“For me, it’s an important part of what rugby union stands for: getting an opportunity to know the opposition so that in 20 years’ time we get an opportunity to share a beer about the same things we spoke about 20 years ago. I think that’s what make this game of union so special.”Tweet