Preview: Barbarians vs Australia
With the World Cup a thing of the past the rugby focus has mostly fallen on Heineken rugby in the North and Super Rugby squad news in the South.
However all this will change on Saturday as the Wallabies take on the Barbarians at Twickenham.
The Wallabies have a reshuffled back division with James O’Connor coming in for the mercurial Quade Cooper and Rob Horne getting a run at No 13.
Yet there is no lack of experience as Will Genia will call the shots behind the pack and the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper once again helps out where the need arises as he will run out at fullback.
Berrick Barnes also gets the opportunity to show that he should become a more permanent fixture in the Wallaby midfield.
In the pack, Tatafu Polota-Nau will anchor the scrum ahead of Stephen Moore. Nathan Sharpe makes his return to the team and there is a fresh look to the loose forward combination in the form of David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham and Ben McCalman.
Pocock also takes the captaincy reigns for this game. World Cup skipper, James Horwill, has been rested after a taxing season and will start on the bench.
Interestingly coach Robbie Deans has mentioned that it is good for Pocock to get the extra leadership experience which could be an indication of future captaincy plans with the hard-working flanker.
The Barbarians always boast extraordinary talent across the park, but for a group of different nationalities to pull together as a unit in less than a week is a near impossible task.
Victor Matfield’s team certainly meet the criteria in the aforementioned, but will look to gel quickly enough to achieve success.
Keven Mealamu leads the front row grunt at hooker whist Matfield is partnered by the experienced Simon Shaw playing in front of his home crowd.
Adam Thompson and Jerome Kaino are at least one combination that the Barbarians know will complement each other well and the All Black pair will be joined by Mauro Bergamasco in the loose trio.
It is part of the Barbarian tradition to play an open, expansive game and the men primarily tasked with this tactic include the strong-running Isaia Toeava and Robbie Fruean as well as the Springbok try-scoring machine that is Bryan Habana.
Stirling Mortlock gets another crack at showing he still has what it takes at the highest level as he will start at inside centre. His Rebels teammate, Danny Cipriani, on his inside will arguably be even keener to remind everyone that he should still be in the English international picture.
Usually when the Wallabies square off for a clash one involuntarily looks to their forwards to struggle whilst their backs have one over their opponents in terms of skill and ability.
In this case, though, one would struggle to see the patched together forward pack of the Baabaas bullying the Australians. Yet at the same account the Australian backs could possibly find themselves out-skilled, outpaced and outfoxed out wide.
Of course after all is said and done this match has particular importance to Matfield. The South African legend will be playing his final match and regardless of the result, it is sure to be a memorable affair as everyone in the rugby world has incredible respect for the lineout genius from the Bulls.
The big man has had an incredible career which includes World Cup and Super Rugby trophies and he deserves all the accolades that come his way.
Most of the players involved on Saturday haven’t played much rugby recently, so the match could start a bit slow and patchy. However, the quality individuals in both line-ups are sure to lead to plenty of high-class rugby being provided to the Twickenham fans.
Key Battle: Great foes Victor Matfield and Nathan Sharpe will write the final chapter of their storied rivalry on Saturday and the fans will be the true winners.
Prediction: Graham Henry’s Barbarians should play with plenty of flair and loads of attacking intent but in the end the team unity of the Australians should prove to be the deciding factor leading to an Australian win. Wallabies to win by 10 points.
Saturday, 26 November: Barbarians vs. Australia, Twickenham
Barbarians: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Sam Tomkins, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Stirling Mortlock, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Eusebio Guinazu.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Salvatore Perugini, 18 Jason White, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Nemia Kenatale, 21 Richard Kahui, 22 Seru Rabeni.
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 James Horwill, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Ben Tapuai.