The New Zealand Barbarians will face the Lions next year to kick off the tourists’ eagerly awaited first journey here in 12 years.
The June 3, 2017 fixture was originally earmarked as a Provincial Union XV, which sounded somewhat nebulous. It will still be played at Whangarei’s Toll Stadium and the make-up of the team, mainly Mitre 10 Cup and the odd Heartland Championship players, will still be along original lines.
But it represents something of a coup for the Barbarians club. This will be the highest profile home match in the club’s 80-year history and a chance to impart some knowledge about what the club does and stands for. There was a feeling that, after the Barbarians’ well merited 34-17 win over the Maori All Blacks at Eden Park last year, the club deserved its moment in the sun, and this has come to fruition. “This is great for us. It’s the culmination of some years of hard work by the likes of (former Barbarians presidents) Mike Mills and Bryan Williams,” says current club president and former All Blacks prop Ron Williams. “New Zealand Rugby is recognizing the work the Barbarians do for grassroots and, in particular, secondary schools rugby.”
Williams himself played for North Harbour against the 1993 Lions, while Mills, a midfielder who reached All Blacks trial level, was at No 12 for the 1983 Auckland team which edged the Lions 13-12 thanks to a late Grant Fox dropped goal.
The Barbarians played the Maori in Whangarei in 2010 to mark the Maori rugby centenary and the opening of the revamped Toll Stadium, and there are more than a dozen Barbarians members who live in the province. The Blues played an unofficial match against the Barbarians in Whangarei in 2014.
“Having it in Whangarei brings it back to provincial and grassroots rugby and we think that’s great for us and the game,” says Williams.
The thinking behind the make-up of the team is that it gives those provincial players a crack at the Lions who would otherwise not have done so, given the remaining fixtures are the tests, and clashes with the Super franchises plus the Maori All Blacks. There will also be a special jersey made, though due to the clash of colour with the Lions, it will be white, not the traditional scarlet Barbarians kit.
The Lions have played the NZ Barbarians’ UK counterparts in the past (2009) and that club enjoys a much higher profile due to more big TV games.
The Barbarians received the green light some days ago and Williams announced the news on Friday night to patrons at the Barbarians’ Eden Park clubrooms.