Rugby: Leicester treasure Baa-Baas tradition

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The Independent Online
For rugby men Leicester v the Baa-Baas two days after Christmas is as traditional as a hangover, so is nothing sacred? Why, even the Welford Road Yulefest is under threat.

This afternoon the Tigers will tackle the Barbarians before a full house of around 16,000, but it will be the last time - for the time being, anyway - that the festive fixture does not fall before a First Division Saturday.

So a year hence the one annual Barbarians match that appeared to have escaped the march of time will be inextricably bound up with a harsher reality, and the Leicester selectors will have to make an unwelcome decision about how to dispose their forces.

It seems that, for that one week at least, the league can go hang. "The coaches and players have a rather different perspective," Tony Russ, Leicester's coaching director, had to admit. "We can leave players out of league matches under the squad system, but on this occasion it's far less palatable.

"The Barbarians match is a great event not just for the Leicester club but for the city of Leicester, and as far as the players are concerned it's still the prestige match of the year."

The club's membership now stands at a staggering 12,000. It used to be reckoned in the pre-league era that folk would join up simply to ensure their Baa-Baas ticket.

So where the Barbarians Easter tour of Wales, once four matches, now consists of one at Cardiff and their Mobbs memorial match at Northampton has become a waste of non-tackling time, the Leicester liaison survives and even flourishes.

Jonathan Davies, for instance, gave one of his finest performances at Christmas 1987 and it is no exaggeration to state that a year later Finlay Calder began his progression to the 1989 Lions captaincy with his appearance at Welford Road.

So it is a tradition worth maintaining, however reluctant the Leicester coaches may be. "If we got into the position where we had the Barbarians match on a Wednesday or Thursday and a league match on the Saturday we would have to put the second team out on the Saturday," Russ said in the knowledge that in 1995 that will be precisely the situation.

"Leicester used to go through a series of friendly matches leading up to the one competitive match, against the Barbarians. Then we had around a dozen league matches, now we have 18, so the relative relevance of the Barbarians game is being devalued all the time, but nevertheless if you asked the players to express a preference they would all, to a man, say the Baa-Baas."

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, S Potter, D Edwards, R Underwood; N Malone, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, T Smith, C Tarbuck, D Richards (capt), N Back.

Barbarians: J Callard (Bath); C Glasgow (Heriot's FP), D Hopley (Wasps), M Taylor (Pontypool), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), R Howley (Bridgend); R Evans (Llanelli), G Dawe (Bath), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Shaw, A Blackmore ( both Bristol), E Peters (Bath), G Manson-Bishop (Newport), D Eves (Bristol, capt).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).