Ireland 23-29 Barbarians, Thomond Park, June 4
Ireland outfought by Baa Baas
June 4, 2010
Skipper Xavier Rush scored the Barbarians' first
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The Barbarians added another scalp to their illustrious history by defeating Ireland 29-23 at Thomond Park on Friday night.
The famous invitational side toughed out a helter skelter final 10 minutes as Ireland pressed on their line, but had the nous to pull through against the disjointed home team.
Skipper Xavier Rush, former Wallabies flanker George Smith and French wing Cedric Heymans scored the Barbarians' tries while Niall Ronan and Tony Buckley responded for Ireland, with Ronan's brilliant score coming after a silky team move. A major worry for Declan Kidney prior to next weekend's meeting with the All Blacks will be the scrum, with the Baa Baas dominating the tight exchanges throughout.
Kidney opted for a youthful side, naming uncapped Leinster centre Fergus McFadden among the backs, Ulster duo Dan Tuohy and Ed O'Donoghue in the second-row and their regional team-mate Chris Henry at No.8. The Barbarians were smarting after a narrow defeat to England at Twickenham last weekend and introduced several new faces, including Smith at openside and Irish favourites Alan Quinlan and Malcolm O'Kelly, who received a rapturous reception on his final game before retirement.
Both teams struggled with handling errors in the early stages and the entertainment factor was not helped by a needlessly fussy display from the officials. Brock James, fresh from winning the Top 14 title with Clermont Auvergne, slotted three penalties to take the Barbarians ahead, with Ronan O'Gara replying with one for Ireland on his home ground.
Rush scored the first try when two powerful scrums created a blindside gap for the No.8 to trade a nifty one-two with Toulon's Pierre Mignoni and power over. James missed the conversion and Ireland briefly bit back before the Baa Baas pounced on another mistake to further infuriate the capacity crowd.
Cardiff Blues centre Casey Laulala picked off a loose ball from a knock on and hared for the line, being brought down just short. With quick recycling Smith was able to barge across the whitewash and roll over to ground the ball. This time James added the extras from in front of the sticks.
Ireland's response was emphatic, and perfectly timed at just moments before the break. O'Gara was the architect, arching into space and drawing defenders as he showed a good turn of pace to head for the corner. As the cover converged he was able to find a brilliant offload to Ronan, who jogged in unopposed.
Again, as they did at Twickenham, the Barbarians picked up in the second-half and while Ireland also upped their intensity they had given themselves too much to do with their sloppy early efforts. Heymans picked up the first try of the second half with the Baa Baas' best move of the game, scooting along his wing after a well-judged offload.
Replacement Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, also playing his final game before retirement, slotted a penalty to extend the Barbarians' lead but the home side were able to claw themselves back into contention. Strong ball retention led to a number of penalties close to the opposition line and from a quick tap giant Munster prop Tony Buckley was able to power through David Barnes' last-ditch tackle to score.
The home side fought for all they were worth in the closing stages and despite some shaky moments the Baa Baas showed plenty of grit. A length-of-the-field move sparked by a turnover on the Barbarians' 22 almost handed Ireland a welcome fillip prior to their tour, but again Smith was on hand to snaffle possession. Ireland's patience was not rewarded and they will head for New Zealand knowing that there is work to do.