Tribute was paid to Munster’s fallen hero Anthony Foley by former team-mate Donncha O’Callaghan and members of the visiting Barbarians side before their recent game against Tonga on an awful night of incessant rain and swirling wind at Thomond Park.
Donncha O’Callaghan (Ireland) and Willie Britz (Sunwolves) lead the visiting Barbarians team in a silent tribute to Anthony Foley
Barbarians 27 Tonga 24
A very sparse crowd turned out to welcome the visitors as the Barbarians just about scraped home against the very competitive South Sea Islanders in an entertaining game of attacking rugby
For Munster fans, the only downside was the sight of James Cronin being helped off after 10 minutes with a torn muscle injury that will keep the loosehead out of action for a while.
Before the game both sides lined up for the anthems, the Barbarians then formed a figure of eight in memory of Anthony Foley as the crowd rose to their feet in applause.
Tonga was first on the scoreboard when Leicester full-back Ateli Pakalani crossed the whitewash with just two minutes played after a good break by Maama Vaipulu and scrum-half Sonatane Takalua added the conversion. They led by 14-0 after nine minutes when flanker Fotu Lokutui Taufui scored an impressive second try which was also converted.
However the Barbarians were resourceful and struck back after The Tank, Taqele Naiyaravaro picked up a crossfield ball and the big 6ft 5 inch Australian, who weighs in at 19 stone, powered his way to the line before scoring in the corner after 20 minutes to get his side back in the game.
Three minutes later full-back George Bridge of Crusaders, who had scored twice against the All Blacks just six days earlier, pulled off a terrific one-handed pick up before gliding over past Takalua Sonatane for the Baa-Baas second try which Robert du Preez converted, 14-12.
Tonga led by two points until a Du Preez penalty put the Barbarians in front to lead at the break by a narrow 15-14 margin.
Taqele Naiyaravoro (Australia) blocks Fotu Lokotui scoring attempt
In the second half, the heavy rainfall worsened which was probably why the first quarter of an hour was played at a low key. Crowd favourite Donncha O’Callaghan, who had just returned from an engagement with UNICEF in Sierra Leone earlier in the week, was given a run out as a replacement for team captain Geoff Parling.
There was just over an hour played when Tonga got back in front when replacement Sione Vailanu showed strength and determination to push past a tackle from the ruck and over the try line to give his team a 19-15 lead.
With Tonga leading by four points, the Barbarians dug in to retrieve the game and were rewarded with two tries inside the final 12 minutes. First to score after 68 minutes was Irish international flanker Jordi Murphy who made it across the line from the back of the maul after a powerful drive by the Baa-Baas. Du Preez added the extras to put his side back in front by 22-19.
The Barbarians went further ahead after a huge maul close to the Tongan line when scrum-half Andy Ellis made it to the line under a pile of bodies to put his side ahead by 27-19.
To their credit, Tonga battled on and narrowed the deficit against the Robbie Dean’s managed team when Vailanu hit back with a late consolation try to leave the final score at 27-24.
No doubt the Pacific Islanders were mightily relieved to be heading to the dressing rooms after a night of monsoon conditions but they did themselves proud and will benefit from this game in their World Cup grouping. Spare a thought though for referee Frank Murphy who also officiated at the history-making Barbarian women’s game against Munster immediately before this.
TONGA: Ateli Pakalani (Leicester Tigers); David Halaionua (Gloucester), Nafi Tuitavake (Northampton), Tevita Taufui (Waikato), Cooper Vuna (Unattached); Kalo Hala (Counties), Sonatane Takalua (Newcastle); Paea Faanunu (Dax), Sione Lea (Taranaki), Ben Tameifuna (Racing); Leva Fifita (Waikato), Steve Mafi (Castres); Dan Faleafa (Colomiers), Fotu Lokotui (Counties), Maama Vaipulu (Castres). Replacements: Maile Ngauamo (Brisbane City), Latu Talakai (Waikato), Halani Aulika (Sale), OneHunga Kaufisi (Western Force), Sione Vailanu (Kolovai Kolovai), Suke Tuumotooa (University), Fetuli Paea (Sila Pelu Ta’anea) Ha’asini (Waikato University).
BARBARIANS: George Bridge (Crusaders); Taqele Naiyaravoro (Waratahs-Australia), Richard Buckman (Highlanders), Harold Vorster (Lions), Vince Aso (Hurricanes); Robert du Preez (Stormers), Nic Stirzaker (Rebels); James Cronin (Munster/Ireland), Akker van der Merwe (Sharks), Brian Scott (Munster), Geoff Parling (Munakata Sanix Blues-England capt), Quinn Roux (Connacht-Ireland), Jordi Murphy (Leinster-Ireland), Simone Favaro (Fiamme Oro-Italy), Willie Britz (Sunwolves). Replacements: Adrian Strauss (Bulls-South Africa), Jacques van Rooyen (Lions), Ruan Smith (Toyota Verblitz), Donncha O’Callaghan (Worcester Warriors-Ireland), John Muldoon (Connacht-Ireland), Andy Ellis (Kobelco Steelers/New Zealand), David Smith (Castres), Sam Carter (Brumbies-Australia).
REFEREE: Frank Murphy (Ireland).