All Blacks just too good for BaaBaas
REPORT: New Zealand won and entertaining match 31-22 against an inventive Barbarians team at Twickenham on Saturday.
The BaaBaas scored three tries in the opening half-hour to race into a 17-5 lead, but a powerful second half allowed the All Blacks to claw their way back into the game and race clear.
At 31-17 the game appeared over, but the BaaBaas kept fighting and - despite being too little, too late - they were rewarded with a fourth try right on full-time.
New Zealand was in trouble at 5-17 5 down just on the half-hour mark, but rallied either side of the break as the Barbarians ran out of steam amid a welter of replacements by both teams in a match celebrating the 125th anniversary of the New Zealand Rugby Union.
But the stars of the game were the uncapped Barbarians duo of Crusaders fullback George Bridge, who scored two tries against his compatriots, and impressive South African flank Albertus Smith.
This non-cap game at a grey and often rainy Twickenham resembled a New Zealand 'Probables v Possibles' trial, with 10 Kiwis in the Barbarians starting XV.
All Blacks wing Julian Savea, who has scored 46 tries in 54 Tests, was looking to prove a point for the invitational side after being left out of New Zealand's tour squad but he had a largely quiet game.
Flyhalf Beauden Barrett was captaining a team for the first time in his rugby career, with regular skipper Kieran Read one of several first-choice players omitted by coach Steve Hansen.
Adding to the New Zealand flavour was the fact that the Barbarians were coached by former Crusaders and Australia boss Robbie Deans, himself a former All Blacks fullback.
The Barbarians were hoping to emulate their celebrated 23-11 win over New Zealand in Cardiff back in 1973 and a 25-18 success when they last met the All Blacks, at Twickenham in 2009.
They took just eight minutes to score following a five-metre scrum as Barbarians captain Andy Ellis - a former All Blacks scrumhalf - sent in flyhalf and compatriot Richie Mo'unga at the right corner.
The tradition of this fixture is that both sides run the ball and New Zealand flank Vaea Fifita did just that with a cross-field break only to fail to find the supporting Ngani Laumape.
All Black back row forward Steven Luatua, now playing for English club Bristol, intercepted a pass on his own 22 and burst clear before finding Bridge, who scored in the left corner.
Mo'unga missed both conversions but the BaaBaas led 10-0 on 14 minutes.
New Zealand eventually hit back when a sustained period of pressure ended with wing Waisake Naholo sending over scrum-half Thomas Perenara in the corner.
Liam Sopoaga, taking over kicking duties while Barrett was in the blood-bin, made a hash of the conversion but New Zealand was back in the game.
Luatua excited the crowd again with another intercept but, lacking the confidence to charge on, failed to find his supporting teammates.
The Barbarians were on top and a quick tap penalty from close range led to their third try.
Ellis ran the ball before Wallaby lock Sam Carter forced his way over.
This time Mo'unga did convert and the Barbarians led 17-5.
Eventually, New Zealand hit back when Naholo sent in Fifita for a try on an overlap four minutes before half-time.
Barrett missed the conversion but come the 53rd minute New Zealand was level when centre Laumape surged through Mo'unga's tackle after taking a flat pass off a five-metre scrum for a converted try.
Just two minutes later, the All Blacks were in front after the Barbarians failed to deal with a high ball.
Laumape stepped past Luatua and replacement Sam Cane burrowed over.
Barely had the Barbarians absorbed that score than New Zealand, after their opponents failed to deal with another high ball, saw hooker Nathan Harris cash in with a try.
But, with 80 minutes on the clock, the Barbarians had the last word when a fine moved led to Bridge's second try.
Man of the match: Harold Vorster and Richard Buckman made for in interesting midfield combination, while Steve Luatua was the power of the BaaBaas' pack. Waisake Naholo, Ngani Laumape and Beauden Barrett put their full array of skills on display. Sam Cane was a monster when he came on, Jerome Kaino, Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea and Scott Barrett were very influential in securing the win. However, our award goes to the Barbarians' openside flank Albertus Smith - not the biggest player, but certainly the biggest heart.
Moment of the match: After the full-time hooter had gone, the Barbarians won a penalty put the ball down for a place-kick - with Robert du Preez finding teammate Vince Aso on the touchline. Some sloppy interplay followed, but the BaaBaas managed to regain control of the ball and it resulted in a try for George Bridge. It may not have been the winning score, but it was pure genius - inventive and everything that is good about the BaaBaas.
Villain. None, only heroes.
For the Barbarians:
Tries: Mo'unga, Bridge 2, Carter
For New Zealand:
Tries: Perenara, Fifita, Laumape, Cane, Harris
Cons: Barrett 3
Barbarians: 15 George Bridge, 14 Julian Savea , 13 Richard Buckman , 12 Harold Vorster , 11 Vince Aso , 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Andy Ellis (captain), 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Albertus Smith, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Ruan Ackermann, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Dillon Hunt.
New Zealand: 15 David Havili, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Beauden Barrett (captain), 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Matt Duffie.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)