Barbarians made to look south to face All Blacks

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The mighty continent of Europe will indeed be represented when the Barbarians face the touring All Blacks in their controversial cash cow of a fixture at Twickenham on Saturday - by Andrea Lo Cicero of Italy, whose club, L'Aquila, have decided they can do without his front-row services this weekend.

The mighty continent of Europe will indeed be represented when the Barbarians face the touring All Blacks in their controversial cash cow of a fixture at Twickenham on Saturday - by Andrea Lo Cicero of Italy, whose club, L'Aquila, have decided they can do without his front-row services this weekend, having bombed out of the European Challenge Cup in the first round. And the other 21 members of the Baa-Baas squad? Wallabies and Springboks, primarily.

Under the circumstances, it is as well that the lion's share of the 55,000 tickets sold thus far can be found in the back pockets of London's enormous Antipodean community. The chances of an English player turning out in a match that has infuriated virtually everyone apart from those who will benefit financially from the venture disappeared when the two nominated parties, the Sale loose forward Chris Jones and the London Irish midfielder Mike Catt, withdrew through injury.

Bob Dwyer, the World Cup-winning Wallaby coach charged with preparing a scratch team that looks even scratchier than usual, was his usual upbeat self despite this little public relations setback. "If we start worrying about where the players come from, the whole concept of the Barbarians would be undermined," he said, after confirming that the All Black scrum-half Justin Marshall would lead the Baa-Baas against his countrymen. "This is an invitation side, and nearly 100 per cent of guys jump at the chance.

"The more intense the international season becomes, the more attractive the Barbarians fixture becomes; the spirit and content of the preparation gives the players a new lease of life. The purpose of the game is a celebration of the game itself. Nothing could be more honourable than that."

And nothing more lucrative either, some might suggest. The likes of Marshall and Xavier Rush, two very recent All Blacks who for one reason or another did not travel to Europe with the New Zealand touring side, have not flown halfway round the world to flesh out the Baa-Baas team for the benefit of their health. Meanwhile, England's leading clubs are still wondering how such a game could be sanctioned on a major Heineken Cup weekend, especially as live terrestrial television coverage may threaten business at the turnstiles. Twickenham has not heard the last of this.

Across the Channel in France, the national coach Bernard Laporte has been hit by something worse than a chairman's vote of confidence in the aftermath of his side's heavy defeat by the All Blacks in Paris last weekend - namely, a president's vote of confidence. "For the time being, I don't have any confidence problem with the team's staff, said Bernard Lapasset, the president of the French Rugby Federation. "I'm not going to change a comma in the plans we have set up for the 2007 World Cup. Laporte and his men are doing a fine job." Mmmm.

Comments