There was a suggestion that the Barbarians v All Blacks game on the 4th November could be used as a sort of 4th test of the Lions tour.
The Barbarians revealed they would be looking to open discussions with the home unions in the hope of securing release for their Lions. “We are going to assemble an extremely strong team for this historic game at Twickenham,” a Barbarians spokesman said. “We hope it will include players involved in the exceptional Lions series with the All Blacks. The players will get the chance to face New Zealand for a fourth time this year.
“We have reached an agreement with Premiership Rugby, who have been very supportive about player release. We will talk with the home unions about access to players.”
Just when everyone was getting excited it was announced that the RFU had ‘scuppered’ the plan.
An English RFU spokesman said: “England players will be focusing on preparing for our matches ahead of the Old Mutual Wealth Series and will not be released for the Barbarians fixture.”
This shouldn’t come as any great surprise as the Autumn internationals for England start a week later – 11th (Pumas); 18th (Australia) and 25th (Samoa).
It seems unlikely that Wales would release players for an additional game before their schedule either – their fixtures are much tougher – 11th (Australia); 18th (Georgia); 25th (All Blacks) and 2nd December (South Africa)
Ireland also have a full calendar – 11th (South Africa); 18th (Fiji) and 25th (Pumas)
Scotland didn’t have any players in the 23 for the tests but it was indicated that none of Gregor Townsend’s squad for the autumn internationals would be released to the Barbarians.
Risking top players for an ‘exhibition’ game with no ranking points and only bragging rights at stake does not make sense in the professional era. I understand that it would have appealed to the romantics but even Warren Gatland must have been worried about the workload for his players.
I have expressed in the past my reservations about the RFU, but blaming them for ‘scuppering’ the plan is nonsense.
It lets the other home nations off the hook frankly, as they will have the perfect excuse not to release Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton and others – likewise AWJ, Jonathan Davies and other Welsh lions will be preserved for their demanding schedule.
If any of them are in the Barbarians aside to play the All Blacks I will eat my hat (which fortunately is made of turnips).