Bryan Habana hat-trick breaks New Zealand's unbeaten tour

Barbarians 25 New Zealand 18

BRYAN HABANA is fast becoming the scourge of New Zealand. The Springbok wing picked up where he left off in the Tri-Nations by scoring a scintillating hat-trick for the Barbarians yesterday to see them to a famous victory over the All Blacks, their first since the famous Gareth Edwards-inspired 1973 classic.

Habana’s heroics spoilt New Zealand’s previously unbeaten autumn, and saw their line crossed for the first time in five matches. The star-studded Barbarians punished the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, for fielding a second-string outfit in a fiercely competitive match.

You would have expected nothing less of a Barbarian side with seven Springboks and four Australians. Both teams had good reasons for not wanting their Tri-Nations rivals to end their tour undefeated. The South Africans were protecting an unblemished record of three wins over the All Blacks this season, while the Wallabies wanted a win after being on the losing side five times in the past six months.

Nick Mallett, the former South Africa coach taking a break from his duties with Italy to knock the Barbarians into shape, did not want to do New Zealand any favours, either. He did a good job of pulling his scratch team together, and although it is strange for those of us reared on the Barbarians as the Lions at home in the 1970s to see the invitation side with just one British and Irish player in their starting line-up — in this instance, Jamie Roberts — the Wales and 2009 Lions centre did the home unions proud, running strongly and off-loading slickly.

Nevertheless, when the crowd starts doing a prolonged Mexican wave with the match locked at 10-7 four minutes before half time, you cannot help wondering whether anybody other than the players cared. Thankfully, there was no sign of the wave in the second half as a Barbarian victory loomed. Stephen Donald put New Zealand ahead with an early penalty, but Habana showed that the Barabarians meant business by finishing off a long-range strike, backing up Drew Mitchell after the Australian full-back had poached the ball from an All Black attack inside his own 22. Matt Giteau’s conversion put the Barbarians 7-3 ahead, but the keen contest swung back New Zealand’s way when Ben Smith was worked clear midway through the half.

However, Habana struck a crucial psychological blow when he lived up to his name of the Intercept King, picking off a Donald pass to race home from 60 metres on the stroke of half-time, Giteau converting for a 14-10 lead. Both teams came close to scoring at the start of the second half, Rocky Elsom being denied by a corner-flagging tackle from Luke McAlister, and Brendon Leonard being hauled back close to the line.

A Giteau penalty pushed the Barbarians to a 17-10 lead just before the hour, but New Zealand’s response was immediate when Anthony Boric was judged by the television match official to have scored after a McAlister break, making it 17-15. However, Habana was not finished and, with 12 minutes remaining, the excellent Giteau sucked in two tacklers allowing Morne Steyn to put Habana over in the left corner and make it 22-15. In doing so, Habana became the first Barbarian to score three tries in a match against the All Blacks.

The match ended with an exchange of penalties between Mike Delany and Steyn before the final whistle ushered in Barbarian celebrations.

Afterwards, Habana, who also took a heavy knock making a try-saving tackle on Leonard, said: “That’s up there with the best. We have an unbelievably talented group of players and to beat an All Black side that hasn’t lost and hasn’t conceded a try is special. It’s great to finish off as we did.”

A delighted Mallet added: “Nobody will forget 1973 and we understand the ethos of what the Barbarians is about.

“Bryan Habana is exceptional, a fantastic player to coach because you don’t have to coach him. He understands defensive systems so well, it is no coincidence he scores so many intercept tries with his great pace.”

It was a disappointing end to the All Blacks’ European tour, which saw them notch up wins over Wales, England, Italy and France without conceding a try. All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith added: “It’s disappointing really, but the Barbarians are a great team. We let a couple of simple opportunities slip by and we couldn’t get it back. It was a pretty good game of rugby, but we threw a couple of good balls away that made the difference in the end.”


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