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The History of Barbarians Rugby

December 07, 2021 2 min read

The year was 1890. William Percy Carpmael was casually touring Yorkshire and the Midlands with a scratch side. This group of fellas were the first representation of the Barbarians. Most of the team were students at either Oxford or Cambridge. Amongst others, the side consisted of Sammy Woods, Emile de Lissa, Jock Wemyss, Percey Coles & WJ Carey. This group could never have fathomed how much of an impact they would have on the game today. 

Having brought this group together, William Carpmael is credited as the founder of the Barbarians Club and was also its first president. The visionary Carpmael believed that attacking rugby was the essential ingredient that should determine the side's flavour, and things haven't changed much in 131 years. 

William Percy Carpmael - Wikipedia

(William Carpmael in original Barbarians merch) 

Six years after their first game, on a tour of South Africa, WJ Carey coined the Barbarian's motto: 

"Rugby football is a game for gentlemen in all classes, but never for a bad sportsman in any class." 

By 1948, the World knew about the Barbarians. That year they took on the Wallabies at Cardiff Arms Park and sold out the 45 000 seater stadium.  The Baa-Baas won 9-6. Even though the score was low, the game was an outstanding success.

So successful was the fixture that it became tradition for Australia, New Zealand or South Africa to go up against  the Barbarians in 'The Final Challenge' of their tour. They played the Springboks for the first time in 1952, losing 12-3, and the All Blacks in 1954, losing 19-5. 

By the 1990s, the Barbarians had travelled far afield. This decade was particularly adventurous though, including a closely contested game against Russia in Moscow and a few years later another close loss to Zimbabwe in Harare. Although most of the Barbarians games have taken place in the United Kingdom, the Barbarians have also dazzled fans in North America, Europe, Northern Africa and South America. 

The Baa-Baas have had some huge wins during the professional era. Stringing up multiple wins against England, beating the World Cup winning Springboks 22-5 in 2007, and again in 2010, as well as a 25-18 victory over the All Blacks in 2009. 

The Barbarians most recently took on Wales, Brazil and Fiji just after the 2019 World Cup. They lost to Fiji and Wales and eased past Brazil in São Paulo, all in high scoring encounters. The year before they had a stellar season, beating England 63-45 and Argentina 38-35. 

The Barbarians women's side took to the field for the first time in 2017. A clinical 19-0 victory over Munster. They defeated the US Eagles in 2019, 33-34, but went down to England in their first loss, 40-14, later that year. Fast forward to 2021 and the Barbarians smashed South Africa 60-5 at Twickenham.

Although there are plenty of super stars to have donned the white and black hoops, no one quite has the Baa-Baas CV of Ireland's Tony O'Reilly. The winger scored 38 times in 30 appearances, a record that doesn't look like it will be beaten any time soon. 

Fixtures for next year are yet to be announced, but the world certainly needs to see some more Barbarians action against the world's best. 

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