Pity the Barbarians and their doleful cheques in the struggle to field the team they wanted to face the Springboks yesterday. Now cast your mind back to a Sunday 30 years ago, when arguably the greatest invitational team ever assembled were put together for nothing more than the price of a pint, a good cause and the love of the game.
Every member of the team billed simply as an "Invitation XV" was a British Lion. They gathered for a match at Moseley on 27 November 1977 to raise funds in memory of the home club's full-back, Sam Doble, who had played three Tests for England before dying suddenly of cancer at the age of 33. Moseley were a strong side but were left chasing shadows at their ground, The Reddings, a mere nine weeks after Doble's passing.
Andy Irvine flew from Scotland to play on the wing (well, JPR Williams was at full-back), Phil Bennett and his wife were driven up from West Wales by a pal, and Gareth Edwards arrived in an on-loan Rolls Royce.
"It was just something you did as a rugby player," said Bennett, recalling the occasion 30 years on. "There was no insurance and you might have got injured but you had to get there. Most of the boys had turned out for their clubs the day before I'd played for Llanelli against Cardiff but though I was aching all over I knew it was for Sam, who'd passed away."
Gerald Davies, at centre alongside Steve Fenwick, scored a try that featured in the titles of BBC TV's Rugby Special for years. The other try-scorers summed up the "who's who" nature of the team: Terry Cobner, Irvine, Tony Neary, Peter Squires and Bennett. The Pontypool front row were there, though Charlie Faulkner and Bobby Windsor had to wait their turn on the bench behind England's Peter Wheeler and Fran Cotton. A crowd of 14,000, some perched in trees, thrilled to the run-it-from-anywhere rugby as the Invitation XV won 43-19.
Needless to say, there was one body with a defiant nose in the air. The Rugby Football Union demanded a breakdown of the balance sheet, concerned at a possible flouting of the laws prohibiting the payment of players. They need not have worried. "We were glad of a cup of tea before the game and a few pints afterwards," Bennett said.
When it came to the divvying out of expenses in the dressing room, he and the rest threw their brown-paper envelopes back in the kitty. The envelope belonging to Bill Beaumont had been empty to begin with anyway. The soon-to-be captain of England returned it with a cheque for the fund inside. "I'm not knocking professional players, they simply wouldn't be allowed to do it now, but we were our own men," said Bennett.
It was a bygone age of goodwill, when the players' time and energy was theirs to give. The memories now are beyond price.Reuse content