Should we say bye bye to the Baa Baas?

baa baas
They are one of the most recognisable teams in rugby with their black and white hooped shirts and odd socks, but the Barbarians recent two matches against England and the British and Irish Lions have cast doubt on their relevance in the modern game.

Their performance against an inexperienced England was extremely poor and, Kahn Fotuali’i’s try apart, they were almost non-existent for much of the second half against the Lions.

Considering the Barbarians squad was littered with some of rugby’s biggest stars, it does not do the invitational side’s brand reputation any good to be losing these games without much of a fight.

And that is what they are: a brand. The BaaBaas need to make money, and to make money they need to play. One must wonder whether the players’ hearts are 100% in it at the end of a punishing season and with minimal preparation. It would be extremely interesting to hear – truthfully – whether the established players turning out for the Barbarians consider it a genuine honour or a bit of a hassle when they come calling.

The BaaBaas have a rich history and are perhaps the last remnant of an amateur game in the professional era, with players from around the world still placing an emphasis on playing off-the-cuff rugby and having a good time off the field.

However in this day and age, with players increasingly struggling to find time to recover and take a break from long, physically demanding seasons, the question must be asked as to the relevance of the famous invitational side.

Firstly, let’s look at the positives of the Barbarians. Although there is an occasional ‘World XV’ that comes together, the Baa Baas are still the only side in the world where players from any country come together and express themselves.

For Southern Hemisphere players, it is the nearest thing to the Lions. There can be no doubt they relish the opportunity to play alongside the guys they normally knock seven bells out of. As a northern hemisphere fan, let’s count our lucky stars there is not a serious SANZAR equivalent of the Lions.

The Barbarians can also consider their amateur ethos a blessing as well as a hindrance. Players tend to go out and have a few beers when they meet up as a squad, and although the training in the build-up to a Test match is intense, they enjoy letting their hair down with their mates – which is what rugby is all about.

But where the Lions have exploded as a brand, taking thousands of fans with them when they travel, the Barbarians simply do not have the same draw. A Barbarians tour match rarely gets pulses racing and it may in fact be a hindrance that they play quite regularly.

Perhaps if they were to tour properly with a real aim of winning a Test series every 4 years, as the Lions do, then BaaBaas matches could well be something to relish for the supporter.

It also does not help that they rarely play international sides at full strength. Because of the timing of the Barbarians visits, the opposition tend to use the match to blood youngsters and try different combinations.

Of course this is helpful to young players development but it makes the match less of a spectacle for supporters and, I expect, provides less motivation for BaaBaas players who would rather take on the very best.

The Barbarians have been part of some of the greatest moments in rugby history – notably Gareth Edwards’ try against New Zealand – but try to think of a genuinely memorable Barbarians match in the last 10 years and you will struggle.

With players placing their nation, club, the Lions, and possibly even rest-time above travelling with the BaaBaas, the famous side must re-evaluate their position in world rugby and think up a new business and playing strategy if they are to continue in the modern game.

Otherwise the great club will suffer a slow, unfitting decline.

By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)

9 thoughts on “Should we say bye bye to the Baa Baas?

  1. Didn’t the BaaBaas beat SA a couple years back? That was a pretty memorable game – just to answer that question.

    To go wider, I do think that the BaaBaas need to start putting in a few good performances, otherwise players are less likely to want to play for them, and test teams are then less likely to want to play against them.

  2. sure, they have had a couple bad games in recent memory, but i have just found a record of the recent victories for the Baa Baas on a international level.

    they beat ireland in 2012
    wales and england in 2011
    SA and Ireland in 2010
    they beat NZ in 2009.
    SA in 2007, england in 05.

    there are a couple other good results in there, but a good one to pick is england in 03.

    SA in 94. The year before SA won the world cup.
    England in 03. The year england won the world cup.
    NZ in 09. 2 years before NZ won the world cup.
    in 2011 they beat Wales, the team who were world cup semi-finalists.

    Based on the lack of preparation that they have, they have an extraordinary record. Also, they are very “French” in the way that you never know which Barbarians you will play, its quite exciting.

    Not to mention their excellent history and tradition that they bring. also, i love the fact that once you play for the Baa Baas, you are a club member for life.

    as i said earlier, they have a hit and miss record on a international level, but there is another dimension to the Baa Baas that we do not always see. I have seen them play in a number of charity/special occasions. one i recall was for an anniversary of richmond rugby club. The current Richmond 1st XV played a Baa Baas team (coached by nick mallet) it was a great occasion, not least because the likes of Jason Leonard were enjoying the game on the touchline.

    the Baa Baas have as much of a place in rugby as the lions imo. (both of which is huge, just to clarify)

    i do however think that the way the game is going, some of the Baa Baas traditions (drinking sessions) may be a bit dated. i feel that the “run it from anywhere” mentality has wilted, and yet the “get drunk and enjoy yourselves” ethos is still alive. i personally think the balance of the two needs to be addressed, but i definitely think that the Baa Baas are a club who should be actively preserved by the rugby world.

  3. Maybe the best way to do it is to not pay the players and encourage people that want to do it to do it and bring some pride back to the shirt. It should be an honour, not an extra pay packet. Get the message to clubs and poll people who want to play and then pick the best of them. Get them out on a heavy drinking session at the start, then get down to work and have another after the game.

    I don’t mind the Baa-baas not being the best outfit and the best players, but I do object to the lack of passion and drive I’ve seen more recently.

  4. Too much is being made of the last couple of games. They were very poorly prepared for England, and against the Lions they had to play in the most horrendous of conditions at the end (for most of them) of a long season. It is difficult to imagine how they could get 100% committed in tropical Hong Kong – no matter what they are being paid.

    There is definitely a future for the BaaBaa’s.

    I would add also that they should be used more as a development team, playing against developing nations. An arm of the IRB, providing tough opposition against teams, and in countries that will benefit from seeing a sprinkling of star names.

    That is not my idea by the way – I read it somewhere just recently.

  5. They are at a 50% win rate over the last 8 years …. better than the lions in tests!

    They played England like they were hung over, that was a huge let down. Against the Lions in >90% humidity it’s going to favour the team that have come from a 2 week fitness camp with state of the art sport science prep.

    Think they should have a ‘warm up’ game each year against a representative side drawn from premiership, championship or Pro12, then leave the booze alone to prep for test matches against tier 1 nations.

    They play Fiji this autumn so their demise would take away this opportunity for a tier 2 nation that struggles to get enough matches as it is.

    So some lessons to be learned from this year, but I don’t see why >120 years of tradition and history should be wound up on the back of a couple of bad results though.

  6. Not many traditions left in the professional game, lets not loose this one. Maybe play club and provincial sides instead of international teams.

    Two bad results do not make a poor side, remember the 1973 Lions V NZ one of the best matches ever.

  7. Who did they have to pick from for the England game? All the best home nations players were on Lions duty, the top French clubs were in finals mode and the Southern Hemisphere are in the middle of their season. Didn’t leave the cupboard particularly full. Not much better for the Lions match, so I’m not sure that this is the best evidence on which to judge the Baa Baas.

    I was quite excited about the England Baa baas game and thought that there were some decent names involved, but then on reflection I realised that a good proportion of them were well past their best, with probably Zanni being the best of the bunch on current form. You look at the line up for some of the other games they’ve played and realise that they were on a hiding to nothing. Doesn’t mean the Baa Baas is finished but someone please look at the fixture list!

  8. No, we shouldn’t say bye bye to the Baa Baa’s. Simple as that. The Barbarians are a tradition in rugby and one which should never end. The idea of different clubs,nations,experience and age coming together to have a few beers and play some fun, usually exciting rugby is a great thing and something which in the professional era is quite extraordinary.

    However, a valid point is made in the article and a serious re-think about availability, timing of matches, selection of players and the real history behind the Barbarians should be re-thought by their management. Maybe a BaaBaas specific coach, not Dai who comes off the back of his own season coaching and has little time to do effective training?

    If as mentioned, a 4 year ‘Lions-esq’ tour, or potentially a biennial tour then I’m all for it. But to say goodbye to the BaaBaas would be a mistake.

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