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Barbarians 22 New Zealand 31: Historic rivals in another classic contest at Twickenham

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The Barbarians. New Zealand All Blacks. A pair of teams that stirs the soul of rugby supporters the world over. Over the years matches between the two have produced moments that have been etched into the annals of the sport, writes Chris Wearmouth.

 

And despite Twickenham at times being swamped by repeated heavy deluges the 2017 vintages provided quite a few more highlights to add to the collection.

There were attacks from behind the line, end-to-end interceptions, powerful and balanced running, and handling that belied the conditions overhead and underfoot.

More importantly, there was plenty of competitiveness across the field, which is always crucial in maintaining the reputation of Barbarians fixtures against the more established international squads.

Indeed there was more than a hint of a potential upset as the Barbarians built up a 17-10 lead at the end of a first half that saw the teams share five tries. But in the end it was three tries in six second half minutes just before the hour that swung momentum inexorably the world champions’ way and saw them emerge with the win  and the Killik Cup.

The hosts were first over the line, fly half Richie Mo’unga going over after several minutes of pressure on the New Zealand line.

Richie Mounga

Richie Mo'unga opens the scoring for the Barbarians

Back rowers Steven Luatua and Kwagga Smith had both made influential interventions, and their All Blacks opponent Vaea Fifita would also catch the eye, not least with a run that was too much to handle and took his team deep into the Barbarians’ 22.

However, and not for the last time, a crucial turnover ended the attack and sparked the Barbarians into getting the ball wide from behind their own line and bringing the crowd to life in the process.

It wasn’t long before New Zealand were threatening again, Lima Sopoaga cutting a superb line. But again there was a hooped shirt there to snag a turnover, Luatua reading TJ Perenara’s flat pass to grab an interception and take off upfield.

Waisake Naholo was the sole black shirt, and while he eventually caught Luatua there were enough hoops there to make sure it did not matter, George Bridge going over.

George Bridge

Full back George Bridge celebrates the first of his double

Perenara made up for his error almost immediately, combining brilliantly with Naholo down the blindside from a scrum, with the pair’s power and skill under pressure seeing the scrum-half over for the world champions’ first points.

As the heavens opened the turnover rate increased exponentially, but for all the work being done on the floor it was Luatua’s ability to read the All Blacks’ attack that was proving key, the big man snagging his second interception to put his team deep into the visitors’ 22. 

Beauden Barrett – back on from the blood bin – did brilliantly to overcome the size differential to prevent the try, but his forwards’ discipline wasn’t so hot, and after the ball was worked infield from the second of two penalties Sam Carter burrowed over for try number three.

Mo’unga landed the first successful kick of the day, but it was an amazing piece of skill on his own line that brought the biggest cheer of the first half, somehow keeping Barrett’s penalty kick to touch in play close to his own line.

Sam Carter

Australia's Sam Carter – another try scorer – on the attack for the invitation outfit

A couple of passes later and Vince Aso was heading into New Zealand’s half as the Barbarians overcame the conditions to not just spark an attack from their own line but put the All Blacks under serious pressure with some outstanding handling and awareness.

Play got as far as the New Zealand 22 before momentum fizzled out, before the men in black upped the pace themselves, Perenara and Barrett combining from a scrum to scythe upfield. This time there was to be no turnover to save the Barbarians, instead Fifita powering over in the corner.

That may have been the final score of the first half, but there was still more action to pack into the final few minutes of the opening 40, opposing wings Seta Tamanivalu and Julian Savea giving the fans in the stands on their side of the pitch some entertainment with their power and balance. 

The third quarter was dominated by New Zealand and ultimately decided the contest’s outcome. Despite some manful defence on their own line, and an outstanding lung-bursting breakaway from man of the match Smith, the Barbarians’ wall eventually broke in the 53rd minute, centre Ngani Laumape crashing over.

The All Blacks deserved that score for their pressure thus far in the second half, but it was unfortunate that the tries that put them in front for the first time were down to Barbarians errors.

Kwagga Smith

Open side Kwagga Smith was the Killik & Co man of the match

Mo’unga’s misjudge of a high kick handed possession back to the Kiwis and a try for Sam Cane, and there was no one at home when Tawera Kerr-Barlow chipped into the 22 to hand hooker Nathan Harris his score.

It was three knockout punches worthy of Anthony Joshua at his finest, but like Wladimir Klitschko the Barbarians refused to be counted out, and had a couple of outstanding opportunities as the game entered the final quarter.

But ultimately the All Blacks’ defensive structure proved crucial, as did a marginal decision that went the world champions’ way when Barrett – just – got to Akker van der Merwe’s hack ahead before the hooker did. The ball went loose and Willie Britz touched down, but referee Nigel Owens went with the power of his convictions to award the 22-metre dropout rather than consult the TMO.

Nevertheless, the final flourish belonged to the men in hoops. With time up they deployed a Will Greenwood inspired penalty move: a place kick to Aso had the Kiwis guessing enough to create the space for Bridge to sprint clear and dive in from distance.

BARBARIANS: Bridge; Savea, Buckman, Vorster, Aso; Mo’unga, Ellis (capt); van Rooyen, Strauss, Moli, Carter, Bird, Luatua, K Smith, Whitelock.

Replacements: Van der Merwe, Franks, R Smith, Britz, Ackermann, Drummond, du Preez, Hunt.

NEW ZEALAND: Havili; Naholo, Lienert-Brown, Laumape, Tamanivalu; B Barrett (capt), Perenara; Hames, Harris, Tu’ungafasi, Romano, S Barrett, Fifita, Savea, Kaino.

Replacements: Aumua, Perry, Toomaga-Allen, Tuipulotu, Cane, Kerr-Barlow, Sopoaga, Duffie.

Referee: Nigel Owens


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