More than 6,000 fans made it to the Rec on Remembrance Day evening to see the rugby and armed forces communities come together in a poignant fixture between the Barbarians and Combined Services. As Combined Services Captain Darrell Ball remarked before the game it wasn’t just a match but also an occasion ‘to remember those who have been lost’.
In an entertaining first half the Barbarians started the game stronger, racing into the lead with a Josh Edwards try from a driving lineout inside the first five minutes. Despite the try the Services team came back and were keen to play some ‘ball in hand’ rugby. Ledua Jope, who made rollicking runs all day, made a break from his own 22 and fly half James Dixon almost put Josh McNally over with a neat sidestep and offload before a knock on. Services hooker Matt Dwyer (who was knocking over 40 metre penalties in the warm up) then took front row ambition to another level with an attempted chip and chase. The chip, however, went into the hands of Worcester winger Josh Drauniniu who made forty metres before being chopped down by the last Services defender.
The Services first try came from a Barbarians mistake though. From an attacking lineout the Barbarians ran a complicated move, so complicated in fact that the ball was lobbed into the hands of Peceli Nacamavuto who raced Barbarians scrum half Gavin Cattle sixty metres before fending him off and sliding in under the posts to the delight of the Recreation Ground crowd. Dixon was able to convert the kick and give his side a two point lead.
Nacamavuto’s score gave his side a confidence lift and saw them on the front foot. Strong defence immediately after their own try saw a hack downfield and a try almost came had it not been for a knock on deep in Barbarians territory. The closing stages of the first half saw the game really open up with both sides playing from deep and making a lot of ground. Scrum half Cattle and Full back Jon Humphrey both made breaks from their own 22 for either side but neither could convert their ambition into points.
The Combined Service teams made the first breakthrough of the second half with James Dixon scoring a penalty to extend his side’s lead. Josh Drauniniu was able to claim the first try of the half for the BaaBaa’s though. A scrum penalty was taken quickly by the impressive Cattle and after a couple of quick phases the Worcester wing slid powerfully into the corner. A missed conversion left the game at 10-10 as the it progressed into the final half hour.
Ten minutes later, Drauniniu doubled his tally in a try that was almost a replay of Nacamavuto’s in the first half. Settee Ramakita’s pass was loose and gratefully collected by Drauniniu who raced the fifty metres in front of him to touch down under the posts, with the conversion, giving the BaaBaa’s a seven point lead. But the Services team hit back almost immediately. Scrum half Johnny Stephen made a half break inside the Barbarians 22 before throwing an offload out of the back of his hand to replacement Luke Robinson who, with the support of teammates, powered his way over the line for an unconverted score.
The Barbarians had more tries in them though. An outside break from Bath University student Nick Gale and a neat pass allowed blindside flanker, and man of the match, Charlie Walker-Blair to slide into the corner capping a very impressive performance for the Exeter Chiefs man. The conversion put them 9 points ahead with only 10 minutes remaining as Army and services stalwart Chris Budgen came on for the Barbarians. The invitational side then finished the game up with replacement Alan Brown barrelling over for a try in a score which probably reflected his side’s dominance in the second half. Despite a spirited series of attacks in the closing plays the Services weren’t able to finish with a score and the game finished at 31-15 in favour of the Barbarians side.
The victory marked two wins from three for the historic Barbarians. Their performances this autumn have restored pride in what many describe as an outdated model in today’s professional era. Still playing with a running rugby priority, the BaaBaa’s have justified themselves entertaining crowds and proving there is still a place for pure entertainment in today’s game. Tuesday’s match was a testament to all the players and coaching staff involved and was a wonderful way of raising money for the British Legion and marking Armistice Day.