Rugby Union: Baa-Baas wary of All Blacks' backlash: Tourists are in a dangerous mood as the curtain comes down at the Arms Park this afternoon

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The Independent Online
IF THE lyrics of the Barbarians' ditty - 'For the rugby game we do not train' - were true, then they really would stand no chance against the chastened All Blacks at the Arms Park this afternoon.

But, though old Baa-Baas will doubtless be singing their excruciating song at tonight's end-of-tour banquet, the old ways have died. Had they not, there would have been little point in turning up. After all, England seemed to be training non-stop before they beat New Zealand a week ago.

The collection of four Welshmen, four Scots, four Irishmen, an Englishman, a Frenchman and an Australian have had all of two training sessions, so at least they have made each other's acquaintance. Compared with how it used to be, this is overkill. And they have a coach, Ian McGeechan of the 1993 Lions no less.

As a contrast, let us take the most celebrated Barbarians of all, John Dawes's 1973 side, who beat New Zealand 23-11. No chance of a coach, not even Carwyn James, who with Dawes had led the 1971 Lions to victory in New Zealand. Dawes wanted him; the Barbarians told Dawes he could not have him.

The captain did the best he could, calling a match-day team meeting at 11am in his hotel room. The fact that James had been invited for coffee at 10.45 was purely coincidental, of course, but at least the great coach was able to impart some last-minute advice to players he knew so well. Twelve had been among his Lions Down Under.

In July, McGeechan failed where James had succeeded and the other difference is that there are only four of the 1993 Lions among today's Barbarians - though Gary Armstrong would have been one but for his late withdrawal, to be followed by his withdrawal from scrum-half play.

If this game can do one thing for British rugby, it is to persuade Armstrong that his future lies in the same position as his past, but as he has paid only one return visit to scrum-half since changing his mind - and that was three weeks ago - an awful lot is being asked of the nuggety Borderer.

As it is of McGeechan. 'There isn't long enough for me to engage in any proper coaching as such,' he said. 'It will be more a case of getting them used to each other. We saw at Twickenham last week that the All Blacks can be beaten and we know what we have to do to beat them. Whether we can do that for 80 minutes is another matter.'

The recent history of these matches suggests they cannot. The Baa-Baas have not beaten major touring opposition since the unregarded Australians of 1976 and will be pushed to do so this time if the All Blacks' backlash after the dire events against England is as fierce as it is reasonable to expect.

'It's another very important game where we want to repair a lot of the things that we failed in in the England Test,' Laurie Mains, the New Zealand coach, said. To make his point, Mains gave his forwards a ferocious verbal lashing when they trained in private on Thursday.

Not that he should be deceived about the strength of these Barbarians. Each of the home countries has important domestic rugby of its own today, and in England especially the pressure to turn out in the Courage Championship is well-nigh irresistible.

Good for Neil Back, then, for resisting but he at the same time has to be excused having an ear out for the result at Sunbury, where Leicester play London Irish. 'It was a problem: it's in the club environment that you produce the goods to get selection in representative sides,' he said.

'I'm honoured to be selected by the Barbarians in an international match as the uncapped player - and the other thing is I hope Leicester win.' A Barbarian win would not damage his England chances, either.

Salmon looks to his cast, page 25

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