Rugby Union: Lafond takes lead role in the sideshow: Barbarians victorious amid debate over tradition

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EVERYONE has been making the right public noises during the Barbarians' weekend in Wales but privately there is an agonised debate going on about whether there is any longer any point in preserving a tradition that is becoming unavoidably dishonoured.

For Swansea Easter Monday used to be a high point - probably the high point - of the entire season. Now, like every other non-league and cup fixture, it is merely an appendage. Enjoyable though recreational rugby may be, it is no longer the real thing.

As it happened, Swansea were glad to take the field again so soon after the drubbing at Pontypridd which has very likely handed the Heineken championship to Llanelli. But the status they accorded yesterday's game was revealed in their team: only five of those who had lost the one that mattered.

'As long as it remains viable, we want to continue the Easter tour,' Mickey Steele-Bodger, the Barbarians president, said. Which begs the question, what does he mean by viability? Already the matches have been truncated from four to two, and as a glance at yesterday's match programme showed, the debate at Swansea is tending towards moving the game away from Easter.

The reality is that the Barbarians are as troubled by the difficulty they have in fielding worthy sides as Swansea are at putting out virtually a second team. 'We can see it's becoming an embarrassment to Cardiff and Swansea,' one Baa-Baa committee man said. 'Do they want us? I'm not sure that they do.'

At least it was not as bad at St Helen's yesterday as it had been in 1992, when Swansea lost by a record 55-12 and even Geoffrey Windsor-Lewis, the normally taciturn Barbarian secretary, described it as 'rubbish'. Nor was it as awful as the recent Mobbs match at Northampton when 80 minutes of touch rugby produced 136 meaningless points.

Indeed this one had its compelling moments, particularly while Swansea were temporarily reducing a 17-point Barbarian lead to three. Otherwise, though, it was not especially serious - which is not a criticism but a statement of the obvious at a time when rugby is either league, cup or nothing. Look what happened when Swansea played Bath: they lost 79-3.

Yesterday the Whites confined the Barbarians to one first-half try, scored by Jean-Baptiste Lafond, the only Frenchman to turn up of the five advertised. Lafond, now retired from international rugby, went on to a hat- trick as the Baa-Baas built their lead, and the burly prop Mike Morgan scored two during Swansea's revival.

Graham Dawe, Hugh Williams- Jones and Lee Adamson - tight forwards all - scored the Baa-Baas' others, with Ian Watkins and the outstanding Mark Titley adding to Morgan's. It was fun while it lasted but who, in the end, really cared?

Swansea: Tries Morgan 2, Watkins, Titley; Conversions S Jones 3. Barbarians: Tries Lafond 3, Dawe, Williams-Jones, Adams; Conversions Lafond, Rees, Evans.

Swansea: D Weatherley; M Titley, J Ball, K Hopkins (J Greenslade, 78), S Barclay; S Jones, Robbie Jones; I Buckett, I Watkins, M Morgan, A Sutton, R Moriarty, Robin Jones, S Davies (capt), R Appleyard (P Arnold, 63).

BARBARIANS: J-B Lafond (Begles); J Sleightholme (Wakefield), C Glasgow (Heriot's FP), G Rees (Merignac), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); L Evans (Bridgend), F Gomez (Milan); M Linnett (Moseley), G Dawe (Bath, capt), H Williams-Jones (South Wales Police), L Adamson (Saracens), S Lloyd (Moseley), D McIvor (Edinburgh Academicals), K Leahy (Wanderers), G Adams (Bath). Replacement: R Shaw (Bridgend) for Lloyd, 44.

Referee: R Yeman (Port Talbot).

(Photograph omitted)