Ruagby Union: Amicable but then only up to a point: Tim Glover on the press conference that brought a sour note into the end-of-tour proceedings

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The Independent Online
IT WAS billed as The Amicable Match, in deference to the sponsors of the Barbarians, and everything was going amicably enough until tabloid man hoisted a teasing up and under. Do you regret returning to New Zealand with a reputation for dirty play? was the gist of it.

The All Blacks' big three, Sean Fitzpatrick, Laurie Mains and Earle Kirton, dropped their smiles and reacted as if their manhood had been brought into question. 'Auugh, come on]' Mains responded, incredulously. 'There's been one incident on the tour.' Fitzpatrick, the captain, fixed the inquirer with a look that suggested he would like to meet him down a dark alley for a spot of rucking practice.

'It has been an uneventful tour,' Fitzpatrick protested. 'The spectators have enjoyed it. We were popular wherever we went. If you concentrate on the rugby instead of this sort of stuff the game over here might flourish a bit more.' They came very close to walking out of the press conference. 'Are you going to use that crap?' Fitzpatrick asked later.

If the question was designed to draw a response, it was also a perfectly reasonable one. Philip de Glanville and Kyran Bracken fell foul of the 'Kiwi kiss' and the New Zealand management's handling of the incidents was shabby. Jamie Joseph, caught stamping on Bracken's ankle at Twickenham, was dealt with 'in house', which means that if justice was done at all it was not seen to be done. Joseph's omission from the game against the Barbarians appears to be the sum of the punishment, yet had he committed the offence in his own country he would almost certainly have been suspended.

The Barbarians, like Scotland and England, failed to score a try and here, too, the tactics of the All Blacks were brought into question. Scott Hastings said they are prepared to concede penalties 'knowing that kicks can be missed'. He added: 'I thought the All Blacks might have offered a bit more. They created one good score.'

That is one more than the Baa- Baas, although Ian McGeechan, who coached the Barbarians for this one-off match, referred to the 'pretty cynical' approach of the All Blacks. 'We created six good chances but couldn't score a try because the next phase of possession didn't arrive for whatever reason,' McGeechan said. 'For whatever reason,' he repeated with a smile. 'It is not the players who are intimidated by the All Blacks. It's the referees.'

McGeechan, who coached the Lions in their 2-1 defeat in New Zealand in the summer, thought the All Blacks should also have played against Wales and Ireland. Alternatively, they would have liked a second international against England 'just as the Lions would have liked a fourth Test against New Zealand'.

While Mains maintained that no team in the world could say they were on course to win the 1995 World Cup, McGeechan said: 'Psychology has a hell of an influence at international level and England have established a tremendous base. I always smile when Geoff (Cooke) tells me he is worried about players coming through. There are a lot of good players in England.'

One of them is Neil Back and from his display at Cardiff it would have been impossible to guess that he was the uncapped player. His all-round skills and pace are phenomenal and yet there was one instance which illustrated why Cooke, the England manager, prefers a back row of No 8s. Back won a loose ball enabling Gary Armstrong to clear; from the line-out, Zinzan Brooke overshadowed Back to win the ball and a try resulted.

Armstrong did remarkably well, considering he has only played one game at scrum-half this season, but he has no intention of returning to the big time. Would nothing persuade him? 'Perhaps pounds 50,000 a year,' McGeechan said.

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