By Alan Dymock
BEFORE THE compression socks are rolled on and the squad head towards a long-haul Monday flight to Hong Kong and the British and Irish Lions, the Barbarians have the small task of facing England at Twickenham.
Coach Dai Young has selected a side to match the plucky, inexperienced England team and while they have opted for experience and caps throughout, they have also picked players capable of throwing the ball around in typical Baabaa fashion. With youth and excitement against wily old boys looking for a good time, entertainment is almost guaranteed.
James Hook starts at fly-half opposite Freddie Burns. Timoci Nagusa is opposite Christian Wade and Takudzwa Ngwenya stands in front of Marland Yarde on the wings. Ben Morgan trots out against Imanol Harinordoquy. Casey Laulala marks Jonathan Joseph. Alex Corbisiero props against James Johnston.
Everywhere you look there is youth and explosion against guile and some of the most impressive muscle memory in the game.
As rugby goes, this match is almost an antidote to the serious affairs before it and after it. The Baabaas game on Sunday is played on the same pitch where, only 24 hours earlier, Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints were trying to bludgeon each other. It comes just a week before the Lions play for the first time, facing a Barbarian XV with almost certainly more potential to play winning rugby.
That is not to say that the Barbarians team for the Twickenham game is deliberately weak, it is just that it is one pulled together to play a junior international side, while the highlight of the Baabaa summer will be the big one in Hong Kong. Some players will play in both games for the Barbarians, but not all of them will start.
Matthew Rees told the press today that although facing England was big, it was all about the Lions for him and some of his chums.
“There’s a few Welsh players here… who have probably missed out on the Lions tour,” he said.”We’ve got to hold our hands up and be counted, and there’s no better way than playing the Lions in Hong Kong.”
Sunday will be a fun bit of preparation, though it may not be worthwhile for Warren Gatland and his boys to analyze it too much. There is this game and then suddenly Joe Rokocoko, Kahn Fotuali’I, B J Botha, Martin Castrogiovanni, Samu Manoa, Francois Louw and Sergio Parisse come in for the Baabaas and others step up from the bench.
Everyone – Lions included – should just enjoy this match for what it is: a pleasurable and accessible start to the international season.
Let the games begin.
Kick off at 1pm, Twickenham, Sunday May 26.
Mike Brown; Christian Wade, Jonathan Joseph, Billy Twelvetrees, Marland Yarde; Freddie Burns, Richard Wigglesworth; Ben Morgan, Matt Kvesic, Tom Johnson; Dave Attwood, Joe Launchbury; David Wilson, Rob Webber (c), Alex Corbisiero
Subs: David Paice, Joe Marler, Henry Thomas, Kearnan Myall, Billy Vunipola, Haydn Thomas, Jonny May, Kyle Eastmond
Elliot Daly (Wasps, UNCAPPED); Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz, USA), Casey Laulala (Munster, New Zealand), Mike Tindall (c) (Gloucester, England), Timoci Nagusa (Montpellier, Fiji), James Hook (Perpignan, Wales), Dwayne Peel (Sale Sharks, Wales), Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro, Italy), Matthew Rees (Scarlets, Wales), James Johnston (Harlequins, Samoa), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester, Scotland), Marco Wentzel (Wasps, South Africa), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso, Italy), Jonathan Poff (Wasps, UNCAPPED), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz, France)
Subs: Schalk Brits (Saracens, South Africa), Duncan Jones (Ospreys, Wales), Paul James (Bath, Wales), Dean Mumm (Exeter, Australia), Sam Jones (Wasps, UNCAPPED), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz, France), Nick Evans (Harlequins, New Zealand), Rowan Varty (DeA Tigers, Hong Kong)