In an era when even the British and Irish Lions are considered by some to be an anachronism, the very existence of the Barbarians has been brought into question, not least by the spoilsport attitude of England's Premiership. Mark Regan faces a fine from his club, Bristol, for captaining the invitation side and Andrew Sheridan, although contracted to play, was prevented from doing so by Sale.
The behemoth England prop missed the chance to play in Jason Robinson's farewell to Twickenham. Billy Whizz, who left Sale at the end of last season, revelled in his last dance, taking heartfelt applause from all over the stadium.
"It was absolutely brilliant," Robinson said. "We only had four days' preparation and we put in a massive effort. England couldn't beat South Africa in the World Cup but we managed it. This is a special place and a special group of guys." He was not overstating the case and nor was Brian Ashton, the England coach, when he said: "Jason has been a first-class ambassador for rugby, union and league, on and off the field. He has not only won everything in the game but has the respect of his fellow players and the support of the fans."
The Springboks started with only five players who featured in their World Cup triumph but having lost only three Tests in 18 this year, they did not want to return home with a defeat. The Barbarians were quite magnificent. Sometimes brilliant in attack they scored three tries against one of the best defences in the game they were even better in defence, restricting the Springboks to a solitary try and resisting a second-half siege.
The impression that the match didn't really matter was dispelled in its infancy when Justin Harrison, the Belfast-based Wallaby, and CJ van der Linde engaged in two falls and a submission from the referee: "Please, stop fighting, please." They did, although in the second half Troy Flavell got a yellow card for headhunting Bryan Habana.
The Barbarians, who led with a Matt Giteau penalty in the second minute, scored a vintage, almost length-of-the-pitch try 16 minutes later. The Springboks, who had been under the cosh, were prevented from scoring by an outstanding cover tackle from Joe Rokocoko on Ryan Kankowski. Then they spilled possession, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith led the counter-attack and Giteau took the scoring pass.
The Baa Baas possessed players capable of exploiting any mistake and but for an intervention from Habana they would have been in again. Instead, South Africa made it 8-5 on 34 minutes when Barend Pieterse a late replacement for Schalk Burger dived over in the left corner.
The response was impressive. A minute before half-time, Robinson made a trademark run looking like a cross between a pinball and an electric eel and Martyn Williams' chip and go earned the Cardiff Blues flanker a try. A minute into the second half, a wayward Bok clearance was run back by Isoa Neivua and finished by a startling run from Rocky Elsom. Giteau made it 22-5 and so it remained.
Ireland's Eddie O'Sullivan, the Barbarians coach, said it had been an opportunity to "get back on the horse" after his disappointing World Cup. He found himself with a thoroughbred.
Barbarians: J Robinson (England); J Rokocoko (Blues & New Zealand), C Smith (Hurricanes & New Zealand), M Nonu (Hurricanes & New Zealand), I Neivua (Warriors & Fiji); M Giteau (Western Force & Australia), J Marshall (Ospreys & New Zealand); F Pucciariello (Munster & Italy), M Regan (Bristol & England, capt), S Ma'afu (ACT Brumbies), B Cockbain (Wales), J Harrison (Ulster & Australia), R Elsom (New South Wales Waratahs & Australia), J Collins (Hurricanes & New Zealand), M Williams (Cardiff Blues and Wales). Replacements: S Brits (Stormers) for Regan, 50; T Flavell (Blues & New Zealand) for Cockbain, 50; JD Moller (Stormers) for Ma'afu, 50; T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues & Wales) for Smith, 57; B Cohen (England) for Neivua, 62; M Owen (Newport-Gwent Dragons & Wales) for Harrison, 62; P Grant (Stormers & South Africa) for Robinson, 67
South Africa: R Pienaar; A Ndungane, J Fourie, F Steyn, B Habana; A Pretorius, R Januarie; CJ van der Linde, B du Plessis, J du Plessis, J Muller (capt), J Ackermann, B Pieterse, R Kankowski, J Smith. Replacements: W Olivier for Pretorius, 34; C Jantjes for Januarie, 42; H van der Merwe for J du Plessis, 42; A van den Berg for Ackermann, 54; H Lobberts for Pieterse, 65; T Liebenberg for B du Plessis, 70.
Referee: C Berdos (France).Reuse content