The ad-hoc collection of internationals from across the rugby firmament needed a 78th-minute three-pointer to separate them from a Leinster-less Irish line-up in this non-cap game after the sides shared eight tries in an entertaining fixture.
More importantly for Ireland’s management as they prepare to finalise their 29-man squad today for the trip to New Zealand, r tour hopefuls Brett Wilkinson and Chris Henry appeared to be injury-free, although Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall got little chance to shine with just two minutes off the bench.
A glorious evening in the west of England, a shirt-sleeved crowd and the presence of the free-wheeling Barbarians, captained last night by Munster’s Mick O’Driscoll, enhanced the end-of-season feel but John Kirwan’s Baa-Baas also came to play and they posed Ireland plenty of questions from the kick-off.
With Ronan O’Gara leading a side with less caps than his 121 combined, it was perhaps no surprise that the men, make that boys in green were also creating lots of problems for themselves, whether it was through sloppy passing, problems at the breakdown or lacklustre defence and against a collection of extremely talented individuals they were quickly made to pay.
Having been hemmed inside their own half for much of the opening 10 minutes, Ireland creaked as the Barbarians’ France-based English wings Paul Sackey and Iain Balshaw combined down the left. Sackey’s power and pace drew in defenders before he released Balshaw to score the opening try on 11 minutes with Felipe Contepomi converting from the touchline.
Ireland were level four minutes later as the uncapped Craig Gilroy scored in the right corner, O’Gara converting but defensive weaknesses were exposed in the 19th minute as Gloucester’s own Mike Tindall, playing for a new contract with the Cherry & Whites, bulldozed his way over a succession of Irishmen, Paddy Wallace the first of them before Italy lock Cornelius van Zyl finished the job by driving over.
Contepomi missed that one and when Ireland crafted a try on 25 minutes thanks to a turn of pace from Gilroy. The Ulster back rode a tackle on halfway, rolled out of another on the Baa-Baas’ 10m line from Balshaw and then off-loaded inside him to John Muldoon. As defenders closed in, the Connacht back-rower switched play again to gift full-back Keith Earls a try from five metres out. O’Gara converted and Ireland were in front for the first time, 14-12.
Ireland, without the ball, however, were another matter and Sackey exposed them again on the half-hour with a quick tap and go from the Irish 10m line. Both Earls and Darren Cave were wrong-footed by the Stade Francais man who romped home under the posts to give Contepomi a routine conversion and the Barbarians a 19-14 half-time lead.
Simon Zebo put a disappointing first-half behind him four minutes after the break as he touched down in the left corner after receiving a pass from O’Gara two metres out, skipping round Sackey to get there, before his captain converted to push Ireland back in front at 21-19.
As the substitutions began to increase, though, Ireland were unable to run away with the game. Tindall grabbed a converted try of his own to delight the Gloucester crowd and Gilroy responded with his second of the night, O’Gara converting to keep Ireland in front by two points.
As the clock ticked down, the Barbarians, on the wrong end of a 57-26 thrashing last Sunday by England, broke type and went for the posts when they won a penalty inside the Irish 22 and Contepomi slotted the kick at goal to edge them home to a fourth defeat in five meetings against Ireland.
Scorers for Barbarians: Tries: Balshaw, C. van Zyl, Sackey, Tindall. Cons: Contepomi 3. Pens: Contepomi.
Scorers for Ireland: Tries: Gilroy 2, Earls, Zebo. Cons: O’Gara 4.
BARBARIANS: Heymans, Sackey, Tindall, Traille, Balshaw, Contepomi, Lawson, Jones, August, Afoa, O’Driscoll, C. van Zyl, Gorgodze, Louw, Lakafia. Replacements: Donald for Heymans (66), Nacewa for Balshaw (55), Rees for Lawson (70), Tialata for Jones (55), de Malmanche for August (41), Taele for C. van Zyl (24), Qera for Gorgodze (65). IRELAND: Earls, Gilroy, Cave, Wallace, Zebo, O’Gara, Murray, Wilkinson, Sherry, Fitzpatrick, Tuohy, Ryan, Muldoon, Henry, O’Mahony. Replacements: Spence for Gilroy (78), Marshall for Murray (77), Loughney for Fitzpatrick (57), O’Callaghan for Tuohy (60), Coughlan for Henry (60), Trimble for O’Mahony (70).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).