History of the Barbarians

What an enthralling fast-paced game of rugby we saw at the weekend, with the Barbarians victorious over the All-Blacks with a hat-trick of tries from Bryan Habana.


I absolutely love watching the Barbarians play rugby, and it’s a fixture I look forward to every season. There is a certain way about how they play, that brings great family fun and entertainment and it is a chance for world class players from across the globe to play with each other in game that can be viewed as just a bit of fun, while still having a huge competitive nature.

What I found interesting at the weekend specifically, was after Habana crossed over for his third try, Matt Giteau and Joe Rokocoko ran up to Habana giving him high fives, hugging and celebrating, when just 2 months ago, they were tearing each other to shreds in the Tri-Nations.

Players like Tendai Mtawarira, Victor Matfield, Andy Powell and Jamie Roberts who were in the centre of the bruising Lions series were playing alongside each other.

In the midst of this fixture, I decided to look back at the history of the Barbarians and see how an invitational team of players formed to take on international sides and provide such entertainment in a unique fixture.

In brief, the Barbarians are a rugby club, whose members play through invitation only. They have no home ground and play with an attacking platform with no pressure on winning.

The Barbarians team was brought to life by William Percy Carpmael, who was inspired by his playing experiences at Blackheath and Cambridge University, as well as the culture he experienced during rugby tours.

Carpmael was fascinated by the idea of regular fixtures involving players of the most elite level.

In Leuchters Restaurant, Bradford, the Barbarians idea was thought of over dinner in 1890. The idea took off, and the club’s spiritual home became the Esplanade Hotel, Penarth, where the future Barbarians would always stay.

During the off season in 1890, Carpmael invited a group of players to join him on a tour to the north of England. This provided Carpmael with the opportunity to play alongside people who would normally oppose each other and become friends. This proved to be a big success and he formed the Barbarian Football Club. During their first tour, they played against Huddersfield and Bradford.

It wasn’t until January 1948 that the first international fixture was arranged with the Barbarians. The home union tour committee invited the Barbarians to play a match against Australia which would raise funds for their home journey – 45,000 people were present in the Cardiff Arms Park to see the Barbarians beat Australia 9-6.

Since then, the Home Union Tour Committee has included a match wherever possible for touring teams.

There have been numerous games that have cemented their place in the history books, since that first fixture. In 1973, the Barbarians played against the All-Blacks in Cardiff Arms Park and this match is notable for what has been voted the greatest try ever scored.

The try by Gareth Edwards was started in the New Zealand 22, and a succession of 7 passes allowed Edwards to score in the right corner and send the Arms Park wild.

Another famous victory occurred in 1961, when the Barbarians played South Africa. The Springboks were unbeaten on their tour of Great Britain and Ireland. In their last match of the tour the Barbarians held on to a 6 – 0 lead.

For a player to receive an invitation from the Barbarians, they have to play rugby at a high standard, while having exceptional composure both on and off the field. Since 1890, players from over 25 different countries have worn the famous black and white jersey. Once invited a player becomes a life member of the club.

The game on Saurday would have been a terrific experience for young players such as Leigh Halfpenny and Jamie Roberts, because let’s face it, there isn’t going to be many times that you can beat the All-blacks, so to be part of a team who has beaten the likes of Richie McCaw and Luke McAlister is a real confidence boost when lining up against them in future.

We next see the Barbarians play in May 2010 when they take on England at Twickenham, and I for one cannot wait.

By Callum Sheppard

2 thoughts on “History of the Barbarians

  1. Nice article. It was a decent match this time around, I think the IRB need to look at the rules once again and see how this king of rugby can be encourged.

  2. On the 6th June 1992, the Barbarians played Russia on tour and they lost.Where can one find the teams and report of the match. It would be appreciated.

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