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How do you coach the Barbarians? We asked New Zealand's finest


Some of New Zealand's greatest have taken charge of the Barbarians. In the build-up to the Killik Cup match on November 4 at Twickenham we asked coaches Robbie Deans, Jamie Joseph, John Kirwan and Carlos Spencer how to bring out the best in the Baa-Baas — and how the All Blacks have kicked on after drawing with the British & Irish Lions.

Jamie Joseph


The Japan Head Coach and former All Blacks forward Jamie Joseph took charge of the Barbarians against Samoa in 2015 – the first rugby match staged at the London Olympic Stadium

What does the Barbarians mean to you?

You’ve got a proud history and great players involved and when the invitation came to coach the team it was an easy decision to make and very exciting to be a part of it.

Is there a secret to coaching the Barbarians?

You’ve got a limited amount of time and the social aspect is unique in the professional era. You have a group of guys who play at a very high level and there’s no doubting their skills and abilities. As a player you need to be able to bring that ability and win the respect of those around you. The biggest motivator has to be in proving your reputation in front of 60,000 people. You have experienced guys, who have a great opportunity, but also younger internationals who would prefer to be playing for their countries and have a point to prove and that can be quite a motivator.

What’s special about the Barbarians v NZ fixture?

The Barbarians have always had that resonance of 1973. You often see the video of that game and the great try. The Barbarians have always tested the All Blacks and any rugby player taking on the All Blacks will always relish playing them. It has a lot of spice.

How do you beat the ABs? 

It’s difficult. They’ve been pretty consistent. All Blacks can be out of form in the Super Rugby tournament but the coaches are pretty loyal. The nucleus hasn’t changed too much and there’s lots of players near the 100-cap mark. The Lions were very strong, organised, well coached. They lost a couple of games early on but they showed the sort of resilience we haven’t seen against the All Blacks in a few years. Either team could have won the third Test. Since then they haven’t been tested but maybe that’s a reflection of the strength of the other countries you see in Super Rugby. I think there’ll be more of a challenge in the Northern Hemisphere away from home in a different environment.

Can the Barbarians beat the All Blacks?

There’s no doubt it will be difficult for the Barbarians. But they’ll pay with a lot of freedom, they will have the skill and the looseness of the game will be in their favour. It’s going to be a good game. You’d have to go with the All Blacks. If you don’t challenge them and if you don’t get your defence right, you die. But it’s sport. You never know!

Robbie Deans


Former Australia and Crusaders coach Robbie Deans — now with Suntory in Japan — takes the reins for the Barbarians for the fifth time for the game against New Zealand

What does the Barbarians mean to you?

The Barbarians is about preserving everything that’s great about the game – and that’s a long list. The club was designed in the days of amateurism long before rugby could be a career but it’s always offered a special experience. The players get to mix and play with those they usually play against and together they get the chance to express themselves and their love of the game without the pressures of an international match.

What’s the secret to coaching the Barbarians?

The key is perspective. You go back to why we start playing and celebrate that, and that goes whether you are wearing a jersey or a blazer. You try to produce a spectacle that everyone enjoys and that inspires people to play and follow the game. That has to be player-led and as a coach you have to empower your players. With the limited time together they need to come together and have those conversations.

What’s special about the Barbarians v NZ fixture?

The rivalry is special because of 1973. When I started playing, the game with the most importance was the 1973 game. Your reaction was ‘Gee, how good was that!’ and that is the benchmark. This is a celebration of the 125th anniversary of New Zealand rugby and the onus is on both the teams to produce a special game. Our challenge is to attempt to bring something unique to the match.

How do you beat the ABs? 

It’s tough. The All Blacks are always striving to be the best. They embrace that challenge to move forward. I wasn’t surprised by the Lions series – they were great contests and maybe both groups will have come away unsatisfied by their contribution to the final outcome and be disappointed that they didn’t get the job done. The All Blacks have moved forward with an injection of new players and that’s what New Zealand always do – there’s a queue of players ready to step up and perform.

John Kirwan


The great New Zealand winger John Kirwan went on to coach Italy, Japan and the Blues – and his 2014 Barbarians team turned on the style against Australia

What does the Barbarians mean to you?

Tribalism and tradition are things that people don’t take seriously enough. In football you have that in the UK. You have a lot of pressure in rugby but the Barbarians is still a celebration of tribalism and tradition. It needs to be preserved and you need to have the right group and approach to the game. The week is not about training, it’s about bonding and realising that the jersey is bigger than you. In the modern game you don’t have a dinner post match, you don’t sit down with your opposite number, and the Barbarians is about what’s fundamental in the game.

What’s the secret to coaching the Barbarians?

It’s to embrace the fundamentals and to play with confidence. You’ve got to keep the error count down but you’ve also got to try different stuff. The players’ appetite for risk is not as much as it used to be but it’s important to try things. If the Barbarians are going to survive they have to play and entertain but they have to be competitive. The nice thing about the games I was involved in against Australia were that we were competitive. That’s a key part of Barbarians surviving. 

What’s special about the Barbarians v NZ fixture?

The story and the history — and it’s really important for me that we tell the story and the history, for [Barbarians President] Micky Steele Bodger to tell stories, to get some great Barbarians to come and highlight that during the week. It’s one of the secrets of the All Blacks that they draw on those stories and traditions.

How do you beat the ABs? 

Difficult. The Lions was a fantastic series because it highlighted some things the All Blacks needed to work on. It’s made them go to another level since then. The pressure the Lions put us under made us retreat into our shells a bit. The positive outcome is that now we’re looking to go forward and keep on playing. I’m from a generation that when we had a penalty we’d give it to Grant Fox and he’d kick three points. But the game has changed now. The guys have learned to play and trust their attacking skills when they’re under pressure.

What do you want to see?

"You need to make sure you’ve made a great game of it. Entertaining games are never one sided. If one side is spectacular, like New Zealand against South Africa the other day, it can be a bit of a bore. The Barbarians need to play great rugby and then the crowd will walk away and say ‘Gee, that was great'. The result doesn’t matter that much then. You want to come away after seeing an amazing game of rugby and some different things.

Carlos Spencer


One of the most gifted All Blacks and Barbarians to take the field, ‘King Carlos’ is coaching at Sanix in Japan and assisted Jamie Joseph in 2015

What does the Barbarians mean to you?

When I was approached to play it was a great privilege. It’s a jersey that means so much, especially because of the talent of the players who have worn it – something to cherish. Playing with players of a great calibre around you – some you’d always thought of as your enemies – made it special. The customs and the exciting brand of rugby you get to play always made it enjoyable.

What’s the secret to coaching the Barbarians?

It’s not too difficult because you’ve got 15 or 23 internationals so it’s just about giving them a bit of guidance. You have a team of professionals who want to give it their all. Motivating them is something you don’t have to worry about as the big thing for them is to win each other’s respect. The style of game is very different to any other style of rugby and to be able to be involved in that — which was to my liking as a player — was great.

Assess where New Zealand are post Lions?

I really enjoyed the Lions tour. It kept us all on the edge of our seats. It was a pretty decent Lions side – their defence was unbelievable and probably something the All Blacks weren’t expecting with that out-to-in rush. It’s made them a bit more aware and made them attack more. Look at the last couple of games – the boys have attacked really well. They always seem to be able to come up with something special. 

How do you beat them? 

The Barbarians have got to believe – that’s the key. Defence is going to be the biggest part. The Lions have shown that if you can get in their faces, you can put the All Blacks under pressure. If they do that, they’ll give themselves a chance. A lot depends on their preparation. It’s always hard bringing together a team in a week and to do that agains the All Blacks is going to be tough. The way New Zealand are playing now they’re not untouchable, but when you think someone’s got them they produce something else. And when you get a couple of players moving on, you always get someone who’s ready to come through.

Coaching is tough job.
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