Source: Steve Bardens/Getty Images for Barbarians

That Barbarians Game – Some Rights and Wrongs

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First we need to read Fiona Tomas’ damning indictment ( of what happened at Twickenham last Saturday; then, if we are very brave, read the comments it provoked.

Yes, they include the well-worn attitude ‘I’d rather watch a boys’ Under 15s game.’ Well, I coached, reffed and watched more U15s teams than most people, plus the age-groups above and below them, and that commenter and I obviously live on different planets.

Then we need to ask a series of questions that the Barbarians would do well to answer.

How did four players and two members of staff of the men’s team come to test positive for Covid-19? Was this bad luck? Were they guilty of negligence? Had they passed through inward controls from abroad?

Why was the women’s match confirmed four months after the men’s match? – none of the thousand possible answers will redound to the credit of the club.
Why was the women’s game placed after the men’s game, not before? (2.30 – 5.15)

Why is John Spencer, once the centre partner of the great David Duckham for England, now the Barbarians’ president, contemplating taking legal action against two famous names (Jonathan Davies and Dylan Hartley) for their reaction to the shock news of Saturday? – how far is ‘utter shambles’ off the mark?

Quite apart from the huge disappointment suffered by the Samoans as they learned of their fate, the two women’s teams had their plans for the day so disrupted that some of them arrived at the ground barely 30 minutes before kick-off.

It will be fascinating to see how the Barbarians committee reacts to Spencer’s position.

Then, looking closer at the women’s game:

How did South Africa come to be chosen as the latest opponents of the Baa-baas?

Once they were confirmed, how did the selection committee go about picking a team to match their likely standing? The Springboks currently lie 13th in world rankings; they are a coming force, but know they have a long road to travel before they can take on the top nations with confidence.

Yet the side they faced was even stronger than the one that faced the Red Roses two years ago at Twickenham.

Yes, of course the hosts wanted to win. Yes, few people enjoy the privilege of playing at HQ. But the result was inevitable long before kick-off, and the balance of the match (10 tries to 1) did little or nothing to reduce the objections of people who see the women’s game as an inferior product – see those comments.

Taking the long view for a moment: the traditional Barbarians matches lost a lot of their savour with the advent of professionalism 26 years ago. Before then, the best players around could be selected, especially the home-based ones. These days selectors have to hunt around for any player who isn’t tied down by club commitments.

The women’s game is not affected by such concerns, indeed several players on the field might have been playing for their club in the Premier 15s league that afternoon, but were readily allowed to take part.

Money back: this is a contentious issue. As soon as disappointed spectators were assured they would get their money back, it became apparent that the women’s game was no more than an afterthought. Why had it not been built into the day’s offerings from the start? And why on earth was it placed after the men’s game? – presumably the 2.30 kick-off had been agreed with the BBC; placing the women’s game first would have entailed a start before midday, convenient neither to the RFU authorities nor Auntie.

So the women would once more have shared the debilitating experience of the ground emptying fast as they warmed up. Not the sort of atmosphere the RFU or indeed World Rugby wants to create.