Key Clash Preview: Barbarians v South Africa

Barbarians: You could argue that as Barbarian backlines go, whilst the one running out on Saturday at Twickenham might not be the most diverse in terms of nationality, with regards to quality it is up there with the best in recent times. The legacy of the Barbarians is all about bringing together the world’s best players, and this one more than lives up to that, with the likes of James O’Connor, Ma’a Nonu and Matt Giteau to pick out a few names all taking part. The pack is also filled with stars, including Barbarians stalwarts Rodney So’oialo and Martyn Williams. With the Australian half back duo of Will Genia and Matt Giteau, they will be well marshalled and there will also be, unlike in certain previous Barbarian games, a level of understanding between key players in important positions. Expect them to play fast, wide, and hopefully very attractive rugby.

South Africa: Set to field a side almost unrecognisable from the one that defeated England at Twickenham last weekend, Peter de Villiers has decided to give some of the young Springbok squad players a chance. And there are some exciting talents on the teamsheet; Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo (who picked up his first try for his country last weekend), Elton Jantjies and Francois Hougaard all are highly rated in the backs, whilst Alastair Hargreaves, Andries Strauss, Coonie Oosthuizen and the very impressive Willem Alberts all get starts in the pack. In a way, it is a pity that South Africa will be without so many of their first choice players. But, they have had a long, hard year of rugby. They will go into this game as the weaker side on paper, yet desperate to end their season on a high.

What to expect: Hopefully a match that fits in with the reputation of Barbarians fixtures. The selections of both teams point towards a desire for lots or running rugby. A backline with O’Connor, Nonu and Giteau combining with Joe Rokocoko, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper has more potential to shine than the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, while Mvovo, Lambie, Hougaard and Odwa Ndungane all have gas to burn for the Boks. South Africa also have the added bonus of familiarity, with all of the players from 11-15 playing for the Sharks.

All eyes on:
Playing against his own country, Anton Van Zyl will no doubt find Saturday’s game humbling but also a wonderful experience. The Western Province and Stormers lock is one of two uncapped players in the Barbarians pack, and coming up against Bakkies Botha on this big a stage will provide him with a stern personal examination. An emotional day for the big man.

For South Africa, Willem Alberts has a truly amazing international test match record so far; three substitute appearances, three tries. His first start as a result is more than deserved, and in an area of the team where South Africa are blessed with high quality candidates, a big performance will be needed for him to force his way into the starting XV. A great opportunity for the man from Natal.

Head to head: James O’Connor v Patrick Lambie

Two young full-backs, both 20 years of age, one already a global star, the other hailed as the next big thing in South African rugby. James O’Connor has proved in the last year why he is highly rated as one of the best backs in the world. O’Connor simply has everything; the pace, the defence, and as of late, has showcased his ability as a top-class goal-kicker. The fact that he is already playing so well and yet is so young, makes him all the more an exciting prospect. As for Lambie, many see him as the long-term successor to the great Percy Montgomery. Comfortable at full-back or fly-half, much like O’Connor, he has great vision for any opportunity on the field. He also proved in the latter stages of the Currie Cup that he can cope under the pressure, and has the upper body strength to break through the first tackle. Lambie will relish making his first start for his country on such a big stage.

Weather: Fog and light rain. Hopefully the players shall remain visible for the full 80 minutes.

Last year’s result: The last fixture between these two was South Africa’s first game after winning the World Cup in 2007, which they lost at Twickenham, partly due to a rampant performance from Ma’a Nonu. 02/12/10 Barbarians 22-5 South Africa.

Prediction:If South Africa’s first choice team were playing this would have been much harder to call, but given the relative inexperience of the Springbok side for this weekend, and the world class players throughout the whole of the Barbarians outfit, this game will only go one way, hopefully with plenty of tries. Barbarians by 15.

by Ben Coles