WHEN 35-year-old Cliffy Palu nailed a rivet into the chest of 21-year-old Jordan Uelese early in the game, we learned the Barbarians weren’t at Allianz Stadium to muck around.
When Taniela Tupou scored under the posts with an up-the-jumper try was soon after, we learned that the sneaky move created by Daryl Halbrecht in 1975 can still thrill the crowd.
And is still illegal, after it was banned soon after NSW Country tried it against England. Tupou’s try was disallowed for being “unsportsmanlike”.
But what else did we learn on an afternoon of thrills, spills and hospital bills for the Wallabies and the Barbarians?
It was supposed to be a day where the young pups stood and showed their wares. Instead the two best players on the field were grizzled old dogs.
Ben McCalman was a standout for the Wallabies, coming off the bench. The 29-year-old was injured for most of this year after breaking his shoulder four times, but after only playing one Super Rugby game and one NRC game, McCalman was in everything for the Wallabies; running, tackling and mauling. It’s easy to forget McCalman was in the Wallabies’ team at the last two World Cups, and given the injuries to the Wallabies’ back and middle rowers, the big no.8 should go on the Spring Tour.
And what about Wycliff Palu? The ex-Wallaby is another who sat out most of the year due to Jake White deregistering him in Japan this season. And he too smashed it. Well, he smashed Uelese, and he was also running and offloading like a Spring Tongan chicken. Great to see Cliffy back at Allianz. (One more Tahs season can’t hurt Cliffy. See you soon).
Replacing Israel Folau on the Spring Tour is not going to be straight forward. On the day’s evidence, Karmichael Hunt is not as comfortable at fullback as he is at centre — nor is he as dynamic. Kurtley Beale will need to play no.15 on the tour.
Hunt still has the edge on moving into no.12. After a long wait, Billy Meakes had a mixed day in his first gold jersey. He dropped a few balls and misread a defensive shape or two, but he’s a better player than that. Best to persist.
The best locks on the field were not in Australian jerseys. Sam Carter was industrious as per usual and made an impact, Luke Jones showed just how valuable a stint in French rugby can be with a dominant display at the lineout. His lineout defence work majorly troubled the Wallabies.
There has been some questions about whether Stephen Moore will go on the Spring Tour. He needs to.
Jordan Uelese’s potential is immense, but it remains just that — potential. The youngster didn’t have a happy time of his starting debut in gold, getting nailed by Palu and throwing poorly.
Moore’s experience was extremely valuable when he came on in the second half and settled the team down. And then scored the matchwinning try. Moore’s physicality was also up there. Plenty left in the old boy yet.
If we are putting a list together of the three best no.10s in the country, Quade Cooper is still in it. Easy.
And that was clear as he lead the Barbarians in a composed and creative manner, finding space and giving the BaaBaas a far more structured look than the Wallabies.
It was also made even clearer Cooper playing against Duncan Paia’aua, his Reds teammate. Paia’aua is a fine prospect and scored two tries. And Cheika admitted he was throwing him in the deep end, as a development experience.
But his lack of experience had the Wallabies looking a bit Browns Cows for most of the game and they relied on one-out, one-pass, predictable running.
For some reason, it feels like people have put a line through Cooper. That’s premature. He thrived as a leader of the Barbarians.
Yes, people got injured, the ref was whistle-happy and there was apparently a no-program scandal, but the sight of a few thousand kids on the field after the final siren showed the worth of the Barbarians touring in Australia. Kids queued for autographs and players happily obliged.
Many of those players had just given a reminder of how good they are to Michael Cheika or their respective national coaches. The Barbarians, by all accounts, had a superb week. One was heard to say “I have just realised sports science is overrated, all you need is beers and to get to know a bunch of blokes by having a bit of fun”.
Sometimes we look too hard for the “meaning” or “purpose” of a game. As if everything has to be part of a grand plan or long-term strategy.