What is the point of the Barbarians game, honestly?

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    The Wallabies’ match attracting the most attention at the moment is not their next one, but the one following that.

    And weirdly, the one being overlooked is a Test match while the one getting all the attention most certainly is not.

    The Wallabies have commenced preparations in Brisbane for Saturday night’s third Bledisloe Cup fixture of the year, and there is no doubt that that game will take the lion’s share of rugby media attention as it gets closer.

    Yet strangely, the Barbarians match in Sydney on October 28 has been getting the headlines, solely because former Wallabies Grand Slam-winning coach Alan Jones has been drawn, briefly, back into the coaching game.

    But there’s one huge question hanging over this game, and not even the game itself being played will render the question irrelevant.

    What is the actual point of the Wallabies playing the Barbarians in Sydney in October?

    For starters, it’s awkwardly timed. it is wedged in between the final Bledisloe Test and the first match of the Spring tour, where the Wallabies will play their first ever Test against Japan in Yokohama.

    If there was going to be a game worth some advance attention, surely it would be what is genuinely a piece of rugby history being made.

    Only four matches have been played between the two nations, with the last two being Rugby World Cup fixtures, and the most recent of those in France just over a decade ago.

    Australia, of course, played New Zealand in Tokyo en route to Europe back in 2009, a match played for much the same reasons I suspect are driving this Barbarians match.

    And the reason can’t be about getting game time, either.

    The last weekend in October would have been the final rugby-free weekend before the Wallabies headed to Japan, Ireland and Britain, and if squad members genuinely needed a hit-out, isn’t that what the NRC is played at this time of year for?

    Further complicating things is that the John Eales Medal is on the Thursday night before the Barbarians game, deliberately scheduled after the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup were complete, and then allowing voting for the 2018 medal to commence on the Spring tour.

    Australia's Stirling Mortlock (c) is tackled by Josh Lewsey (l) of the Barbarians

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    So the Wallabies, having come off a pretty tough TRC and Bledisloe campaign will be asked to prepare for a game on home soil they cannot afford to lose, with a disrupted preparation and on what was going to be their last weekend off before the end of year tour.

    Are we sure this a good idea?

    The Jones factor adds all new layers of complexity. Though he has long been, and remains, a strong supporter of Michael Cheika, Jones has always allowed his name to be thrown up as a potential Wallabies coach, despite having not coached rugby for more than 30 years.

    He even ‘applied’, in a manner of speaking, to replace John Connolly back in 2009, and then never let up on Robbie Deans, the man rightly appointed ahead of him.

    He’s never been short of opinions on the state of Australian rugby, and as the only coach to have led a Wallabies side on a Grand Slam tour of Great Britain and Ireland, his opinions are sought and respected.

    He still clearly enjoys rugby, loves it even, and this has led to him often being portrayed as some kind of saviour of the game in this country. Not that he’s ever felt the need to downplay this portrayal, mind you.

    His infamous “return to the game” announcement via social media back in July is a great example of this.

    He was more than happy to soak up the immediate attention and speculation this drew at the time, but the announcement itself – that he was going to coach the Barbarians – was massively underwhelming.

    The match itself, therefore, shapes as the classic lose-lose situation for the Wallabies.

    They can’t rest players, even though guys like Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Coleman, Michael Hooper, Bernard Foley and even Israel Folau have probably earned the right to sit a game like this out, because this would be seen as Cheika not taking the game – the non-capped, barely international game – seriously.

    Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley lines up a kick at goal

    (Photo by Tim Anger)

    They also can’t now pick guys on the fringe who have been named in the Baabaas squad, because that would be seen as the Wallabies and the ARU undermining Jones’ return.

    Equally, if the Wallabies win and especially if they win well, the reaction will be ‘so they should have’. If they lose, the ‘Jones for Wallabies coach’ machine will crank up all over again.

    Jones has said he wants to recognise now-former Western Force players, which he’s certainly done in naming nine of them in his initial 24-man squad.

    And while that’s admirable, it comes at the cost of completely undermining the Perth Spirit’s run to the NRC finals, where they could be without anywhere up to a dozen players for the final round match on the same day against Queensland Country.

    Four other teams in finals contention will also lose players to the match.

    Spirit coach Kevin Foote said a few weeks ago of the prospect, “If we need to take 15 new club guys away [for the final match], we will. I certainly don’t oppose releasing players at all.” Because what else could he say, really?

    So again, what will seriously be achieved by the Wallabies playing the Barbarians on October 28?

    The answer, sadly, can only be financial. Because when everything is laid out like this, it just doesn’t make sense by any other measure.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (205)

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2017 @ 10:28am
      Train Without A Station said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      What’s the point of this game?

      I think that’s an easy one Brett.


      As a note, Jones did not take the Tigers to a Grand Final. That was Warren Ryan.

      Jones coached 1991 to 1993.

      • Columnist

        October 17th 2017 @ 10:46am
        Brett McKay said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Dammit TWAS!! You’re right, of course, apologies all round..

        • Roar Guru

          October 17th 2017 @ 10:47am
          Train Without A Station said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          I only remember it because it was more memorable that he was unable to replicate his success in League.

          • Columnist

            October 17th 2017 @ 11:09am
            Brett McKay said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

            I had it in my head for some reason that it was Jones that Paul Sironen never forgave for replacing him. Of course, I could’ve looked it up!

          • Roar Guru

            October 17th 2017 @ 12:20pm
            sheek said | October 17th 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

            “I only remember it because it was more memorable that he was unable to replicate his success in League”.

            Showing us your mean-spirited side, no doubt…..

            • Roar Guru

              October 17th 2017 @ 12:25pm
              Train Without A Station said | October 17th 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

              By mentioning facts you dislike?

              Somebody succeeding somewhere then failing somewhere else is far more memorable than succeeding elsewhere. It just blends into a career of success.

              Settle snowflake.

              Or to quote yourself, “have a teaspoon of cement”.

              • Roar Guru

                October 17th 2017 @ 7:22pm
                sheek said | October 17th 2017 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

                Don’t worry, I’m keeping my powder dry.

                i did respond twice & it was taken down twice.

                Apparently the editors couldn’t stomach me replacing the S of your name with the next letter of the alphabet.

            • Roar Rookie

              October 17th 2017 @ 12:28pm
              Don said | October 17th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

              To be fair though Sheek, AJs stint at the Tigers was pretty woeful and it was made more memorable for the fact that he was so successful in Rugby.

              The epitome of square peg in a round hole was AJ in League.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 10:55am
        hog said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        Of course its financial TWAS, the season runs from February to December now with myriad of competitions, tests and games that even the hard core fan struggles to keep up with. And all of these games justified by the almighty $$$$.

        Yet ironically the game has never been so broke!!!

        • Roar Guru

          October 17th 2017 @ 10:58am
          Train Without A Station said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          It’s only ironic if you ignore external factors that drive up the costs.

          Funnily enough these are competitions that play rather long seasons (October-May).

          • October 17th 2017 @ 1:24pm
            Zulu said | October 17th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            Gee TWAS, it’s funny you didn’t mention Melbourne Rebels ???

            • Roar Guru

              October 17th 2017 @ 1:52pm
              Train Without A Station said | October 17th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

              Because they wouldn’t be an issue if the global market for the biggest cost – player salaries, had not been pushed up.

              • October 17th 2017 @ 2:45pm
                Bakkies said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

                What’s that got to deal with the deal of the century and using ARU funds to cover Cox’s debts in NZ?

        • October 17th 2017 @ 2:43pm
          Bakkies said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

          Hog we know why they are broke and they are choosing to keep on that money pit with no business plan to stop the draining.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 6:12pm
        Curl said | October 17th 2017 @ 6:12pm | ! Report

        It might be $$$$s, but in reality, I think the game would have better served the Wallabies and Aust rugby if it was at practice match at the beginning of the Test season, or at least before the first game against the ABs.

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:35am
      concerned supporter said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      You of all people should know,
      publicity for Rugby, publicity for Rugby, publicity for Rugby.
      and secondly Revenue for the ARU to assist the ARU coffers which would have been depleted by the drop off in 2017 Test Crowds in Australia of 83,000.
      The ARU need the money and the publicity.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 11:00am
        Bakkies said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:00am | ! Report

        The Rebels unit trusts may also be depleted. They need further assistance to compensate their lack of a business plan.

        • October 17th 2017 @ 2:13pm
          Johnny J-Dog said | October 17th 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

          This is a game that needed to be played at the beginning of the international season as a quasi trial like NZ did Probables v Possibles.

          • October 17th 2017 @ 5:47pm
            ScottD said | October 17th 2017 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

            Totally agree with that.

            • October 17th 2017 @ 11:05pm
              Crash Ball2 said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

              The Cheika version is: Definites VS Blokes I Don’t Like.

    • October 17th 2017 @ 10:41am
      cm said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      All good points, thanks Brett.

      Then there’s the added dilemma that it’s impossible not to set Jones’ coaching record alongside his more recently expressed, strident views on politics and society . To be specific, Jones’ antediluvian
      opinions seem to flatly contradict the ARU’s far more enlightened perspective on the role of women in society. Is the ARU entirely happy to be associated with misogyny?

      • October 18th 2017 @ 11:28am
        DaveR said | October 18th 2017 @ 11:28am | ! Report

        Or another point of view CM, each member of the disastrous ARU board is supposed to bring significant and relevant knowledge and experience to the board table. Of the three women directors, only one appears to have any prior exposure to rugby (in NZ). Thats 3 out of 8 directors (was 9 with Geoff Stooke). On that basis its important to have a discussion about the composition of the board. And AJ might just start that conversation.

        The ARU’s “more enlightened” perspective? Hows that going for them?

    • Roar Rookie

      October 17th 2017 @ 10:42am
      CS Knott said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      Because it’s fun. To be honest, with all the tournaments, tours, and trophies being thrown around all season, I think it’s quite nice (even quaint) to play a big game that means next to nothing – let’s all just enjoy the rugby.

      Sure, there’ll be a financial win for some. And the players, I hope, will enjoy being a part of a very longstanding tradition. The coaching angle makes for good theatre, but I would think it’s pretty unreasonable for anyone to judge Cheika or Jones on an exhibition match.

      All in all, I think everyone can get a little good out of this game, especially the fans who just get to have a good time. Nothing enduring will be achieved, you’re quite right, and I think that’s perfectly fine.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 4:59pm
        me too said | October 17th 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

        One of my fondest sporting memories was being at Twickenham for the Walabies v Barbarians game in 92. Twas meant to be Campese’s last game. Fantastic crowd atmosphere and a great free flowing game, highlighted by a few typical Campese runs down the wing. Always entertaining.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 7:40pm
        Schuey said | October 17th 2017 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

        I agree. Its gonna be fun to watch. I am glad its on. I’ll be going.

    • Roar Guru

      October 17th 2017 @ 10:51am
      Atawhai Drive said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

      Well said, Brett.

      This match is nothing more than an opposed training run for the Wallabies, one they don’t need.

      But it’s also an “event”, a cynical exercise in promoting a code that, at the moment, needs all the help it can get.

      Only the odious Jones knows why he has fluttered out of his gilded cage to “coach” the Barbarians. His public pronouncements on rugby indicate he has not kept up with developments in the professional game, and he is unlikely to work any miracles with the players available to the Barbarians _ many of whom should be playing in the NRC in any case.

      Where is it being played? Allianz?

      • Columnist

        October 17th 2017 @ 11:09am
        Brett McKay said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        Yep, SFS, 3pm kickoff, AD…

      • October 17th 2017 @ 9:10pm
        Jack said | October 17th 2017 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

        We shall see. The Wallabies have not beaten a side ranked above for years. Four wins this season. Italy, Fiji and the Pumas. Not exactly a grand slam. The Tahs would be hard pressed to beat this ba ba side so the a Wallabies may struggle.

      • October 18th 2017 @ 11:01pm
        DaveR said | October 18th 2017 @ 11:01pm | ! Report

        “nothing more than an opposed training run, one they dont need”

        Based on their performance over the last 2 years, I would say they need as many training runs as thet can get, and more.

    • Columnist

      October 17th 2017 @ 10:52am
      Ryan O'Connell said | October 17th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      Whilst I agree with your overall point, your opening sentence may provide your answer: it’s attracting attention. Rugby needs all the coverage it can get, at present.

      • October 17th 2017 @ 11:38am
        Gary said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        God help us if we need that regurgitated old Queen to get attention for our game.

        • October 17th 2017 @ 11:57am
          zhenry said | October 17th 2017 @ 11:57am | ! Report

          You need God’s help then.

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