Barbarians & Lions: A new validation
In most circles, it has been a long time since barbarians and lions have been seen as a viable entertainment proposition; although it is surely only a matter of time before Jeremy Kyle has them on the same bill again. The one exception to this has been the traditional world of rugby union, where these two have survived along with other traditions such as boorishness, drinking and social class structures. Until recently.
The disastrous Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005, where the great and the good of the British & Irish game were given an object lesson in winning ruthlessly - and Clive Woodward was given a lesson in how to dismantle an ego - led to many obituaries being written of the great touring behemoth. Many of the same voices, and quite a few others, saved a little ink to scribe similar pieces about the Baa-baas.
The logic was straightforward. In the days when international teams would be eating steak and chips together an hour before kick-off, a scratch team had a chance. But since professionalism took a foothold, with its conditioning coaches, full-time players and well-drilled teams, such an ill-prepared team would lose, royally.
The aforementioned tour of embarrassment and recent Barbarians matches gave credence to this view to such an extent that the game versus South Africa last weekend was seen as the last chance saloon for the Baa-Baas, with bad guys gunning for the club with no home rather than the man with no name. How pleased Jason Robinson must have been to not only beat the world champions in his last ever game, but to also save one of the oldest and most romantic institutions in the game of rugby.
Beating the world champions is a great achievement, apart from in the wilderness years of 2003 to 2007 obviously, even if these particular champions would rather be at home than playing on a freezing November in London. The capacity crowd at Twickenham demonstrated that the public interest is still there, but crucially the result proved that even in today's game such a team can still be competitive.
Roll on 2009, when the Lions will take on the same World Champion opponents and hopefully get the same result.
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