Barbarians tour gives Macqueen opportunity for redemption

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The Independent Online

The last time one of Rod Macqueen's teams pitched up at Twickenham – the 2000 Wallabies, led by John Eales and boasting seven of the side that had won the World Cup 12 months previously – they produced a display of such uncharacteristic and unwarranted cynicism that even the most neutral observers laughed themselves silly when England's Dan Luger sent the tourists packing with a try in the umpteenth minute of injury time. Macqueen will be expected to deliver something considerably more palatable when he returns to London in May.

By some distance the most successful coach in the history of Australian rugby, Macqueen will coach the Barbarians on their three-match gallop around the British mainland. "One of my fondest memories from my playing days is my first selection for the Australia Barbarians," he said yesterday. "The experience gave me an insight into a totally new dimension of the game. It will be an honour to coach these Baa-Baas."

Macqueen, who retired from Test coaching after the Wallabies' series victory over the Lions last summer, will be assisted by Philippe Sella, one of the great figures in French rugby. Another Frenchman, Thomas Castaignède, will play for the Baa-Baas if his imminent return from an interminable Achilles injury is successful, and three Springboks – Braam van Straaten, Rassie Erasmus and Victor Matfield – have also expressed interest in participating. The Barbarians will take on an England XV on 26 May, Wales three days later and Scotland on 1 June.

Amusingly, the aforementioned Luger has been named in a second-string Harlequins team for tomorrow's match with the Army at Aldershot – quite a comedown from Saturday, when the wing scored two of England's five tries against Wales. However, the chastened Luger has more chance of appearing in the last round of Six Nations matches than poor Sylvain Marconnet of France. Having waited months to re-establish some sort of foothold in the national squad, the Stade Français prop fractured his ribs during the victory over Scotland at Murrayfield and is likely to spend the next three weeks in bandages, thereby missing the Grand Slam game with Ireland on 6 April.

Meanwhile, Heineken Cup officials confirmed yesterday that the semi-final between Leicester and Llanelli at Nottingham Forest's City Ground on 28 April would be a 29,500 sell-out. Both clubs have sold their allocation of 13,000 tickets, so the audience will be virtually 90 per cent partisan, as opposed to 90 per cent corporate – and it seems likely that the other semi-finalists, Castres and Munster, will achieve something similar in Beziers on the same weekend.

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