One of the most extraordinary days in rugby took place at Twickenham Stadium.
At 12.30 the Baa-baas women’s team learned they would be kicking off at 2.30, not 5.15 as scheduled.
Six members of the men’s unit had been diagnosed with Covid-19; their game had to be called off.
This was a quite massive blow for the Samoan opposition who were thus deprived of a showing at the temple of rugby and a chance to represent their nation on the world stage.
The cancellation set in train a huge shift. The women’s game took over the slot reserved for the men on BBC One – yet another first. For the first time women’s rugby could check its pulling power, though not in quite the fashion it had hoped for. Part of England’s bid to host the 2025 World Cup listed a full HQ as part of its aspirations.
Disappointed spectators were assured of full recompense; let’s hope it was the insurers who had to cough up, not the RFU.
Some of the Springboks had to get to the ground by taxi, arriving barely half-an-hour before kick-off.
Some of the main supporters of the teams, families and friends, may have heard the disturbing news too late, and arrived well after kick-off.
That was just for starters; now we had a proper match to savour.
This was a vital fixture for the Springboks as they strive to raise their standards and compete on equal terms at the 2022 RWC. They must be one of the few nations around who can one day hope to wrestle a top-4 place from the recurrent quartet of New Zealand, England, Canada and France.
But they were up against a team and a half.
Just imagine: you pick up the phone twenty-three times to ask if a certain player would care to join you for the fixture. She is already through the front door, bags in hand, before you have ticked her name off your list. That is what it means to be selected for the most celebrated of wandering sides.
Fiona Stockley and her help-mates had picked a remarkable 23. This is where high emotions kicked in.
Marking their final appearance on a rugby field were three warriors of very different backgrounds: Katy Daley-Mclean, past World Cup winning captain; a much younger captain, Ciara Griffin of Ireland; and the oldest player on the pitch, Lindsay Peat, also of Ireland. How wonderful that all three contrived to mark the day with a try.
On their second appearance at HQ the Baa-baas were intent on giving the crowd their money’s worth. The ball was run from everywhere, led by the ebullient captain, Mo Hunt. She revelled in the chance to tap and go at every opportunity.
Hope Rogers was the first to benefit, then KD-M ran 35 metres. On six minutes she hoisted her first cross-kick for Sarah Levy to claim it and score.
The Baa-baas had their own patent tap-penalty ready, which involved the player on the end of a line of five falling over! It worked. KD-M ran, dummied and stepped to score a memorable try.
Léna Corson put herself in line for the biggest grin of the day as she went over for a fourth try, but she was to receive stiff competition.
A beautiful move from first phase allowed Rhona Lloyd to show her paces on the other wing.
The Springboks’ problems in clearing their lines resulted in a second offering from Levy. (31-0)
On 33 minutes Stanley Raubenheimer made early changes up front which brought an immediate improvement to the set-scrum. From here on the Springboks presented a sterner face.
But as Clara Munarini checked her watch, Hunt snaffled an awkward pass behind another Springbok scrum and was clean through.
The Baa-baas were in trouble after the break, conceding a penalty inside their own 22, but sadly Zenay Jordaan’s kick pranged back off a post into the hands of the home captain.
The Springboks did score a deserved try. At a second attempt (a foot on the touchline the first time) Ayanda Malinga forced her way over after a skilful run. The crowd responded warmly. But that remained their only contribution to the scoreboard. (55-5)
At the other end of the field Levy went over for a hat-trick; Simi Pam scored a warmly received try and, a moment before the close, Griffin’s playing career ended gloriously with a tenth try (slightly less gloriously with a missed conversion). Smiles and laughter all round.
Result: Barbarians 60 South Africa 5
Barbarians: tries: Rhona Lloyd, Sarah Levy (3), Katy Daley-McLean, Natasha Hunt, Lénaïg Corson, Lindsay Peat, Simi Pam, Ciara Griffin.
Conversions: Katy Daley-Mclean (5)
Springboks: try: Ayanda Malinga
Player of the Match: Katy Daley-Mclean
1. Lindsay Peat (Ireland, Railway Union)
2. Laura Russell (Canada, Toronto Nomads)
3. Hope Rogers (USA, Life West)
4. Alycia Washington (USA, Worcester Warriors)
5. Lénaïg Corson (France, Stade Rennais)
6. Ciara Griffin (vice-captain, Ireland, UL Bohemians)
7. Karen Paquin (Canada, Stade Bordelais)
8. Anna Caplice (Ireland, Gloucester Hartpury)
9. Natasha Hunt (captain, England, Gloucester Hartpury)
10. Katy Daley-McLean (England, Sale Sharks)
11. Sarah Levy (USA, New York Rugby Club)
12. Jenny Murphy (Ireland, Old Belvedere RFC)
13. Sene Naoupu (Ireland, Leinster)
14. Rhona Lloyd (Scotland, Stade Bordelais)
15. Bulou Mataitoga (USA, Berkeley All Blues)
16. Isabel Rico Vazquez (Spain, Olimpico De Pozuelo Madrid)
17. Rochelle Clark (England, Saracens)
18. Simi Pam (England, Bristol Bears)
19. Sonia Green (England, Saracens)
20. Bethan Dainton (Wales, Harlequins)
21. Sammy Wong (New Zealand, Wasps)
22. Morgane Peyronnet (France, Montpellier)
23. Katie Mason (England, Wasps)
15. Eloise Webb (Boland; 7 caps)
14. Nomawethu Mabenge (Eastern Province Queens; 4 caps)
13. Jakkie Cilliers (Leopards; 2 caps)
12. Chumisa Qawe (DHL Western Province; 6 caps)
11. Simamkele Namba (DHL WP; 1 cap)
10. Zenay Jordaan (vice-captain; EP Queens; 29 caps)
9. Unam Tose (Border; 5 caps)
8. Sizophila Solontsi (Cell C Sharks; 8 caps)
7. Catha Jacobs (Blue Bulls; 4 caps)
6. Lusanda Dumke (Border; 10 caps)
5. Rights Mkhari (Blue Bulls; 5 caps)
4. Nolusindiso Booi (captain; DHL WP; 28 caps)
3. Babalwa Latsha (DHL WP; 11 caps)
2. Micke Gunter (Cell C Sharks; 1 cap)
1. Asithandile Ntoyanto (Border; 7 caps)
16. Lindelwa Gwala (Cell C Sharks; 12 caps)
17. Sanelisiwe Charlie (EP Queens; 2 caps)
18. Monica Mazibukwana (EP Queens; uncapped)
19. Lerato Makua (Blue Bulls; 1 cap)
20. Sinazo Mcatshulwa (DHL WP; 10 caps)
21. Rumandi Potgieter (Blue Bulls; uncapped)
22. Ayanda Malinga (Blue Bulls; 4 caps)
23. Donelle Snyders (DHL WP; 2 caps)
Referee: Clara Munarini (FIR)
ARs: Sara Cox (RFU) & Maria Beatrice Benvenuti (FIR)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
This magnificent figure can’t quite come in the category of a stamd-alone game. It has to be seen in context: a men’s game called off and the women’s game brought forward. Nonetheless it is a massive tribute to everyone concerned.
The Springboks can take pride in their performance; they are a team of the future. One simple fault was not delivering a first clearing pass in front of the receiver. All too often she took it standing still or reaching behind her.
The line-out needs refinement, but the scrummaging improved markedly. And one and all, they made their presence felt at the tackle and breakdown. More high-level contests like this will see them forge ahead.