Baa Baas turn on style to thrill Belfast fans
Barbarians 40 Fiji 7
The Belfast weather made little accommodation for the first visit of the Barbarians to Northern Ireland since 1957 but the famous touring side still turned on the style at a wet and windy Kingspan Stadium last night.
While neither local favourites Tommy Bowe or Ruan Pienaar got on the score-sheet, the Baa Baas produced six tries with Fiji offering only one score in reply.
In front of over 10,000 fans, the Islanders named an experimental line-up with some new combinations and proved no match for a side made up largely of promising Super Rugby talent with a handful of internationals.
After his first Baa Baas experience, Bowe said: "It was great fun out there and it's been a great couple of days.
"We knew the weather wasn't great but we wanted to put on show and I think we did that for the people came out. "It was a great game and we'll enjoy a bit of craic now.
"For me, I was delighted to get 80 minutes under the belt. It's been a really frustrating time being out injured. To get 80 minutes and try to get match fit was great."
Perhaps it was the weather but the game's first score was atypically Barbarian.
In their long and storied history, mauled tries have been a distinct rarity but the set-piece proved fruitful after just two minutes when hooker Akker van der Merwe was driven over the line by his forwards after a good take from Luke Whitelock.
And with only five minutes gone, fundamentals were again to the fore after a well executed charge down created the turnover for winger Matt Faddes to go over unopposed in the corner.
With a point-a-minute pace in the early stages, the third was a score more out of the Barbarians history book.
Gigantic wing Taqele Naiyaravoro, the Australian international last seen in these parts as a Glasgow Warrior, was sent down the flank by Andy Ellis and was only slowed by the fourth attempted tackle.
An offload to Ellis, who repeated the trick for Akker van der Merwe, and the South African was over for his second of the night.
With South African Robert du Preez kicking well off the tee, his third conversion made it 21-0.
Having been involved in the second score, the local crowd almost got their wish for a try from Bowe but the winger, wearing Armagh socks for the occasion, was halted after an excellent line break.
The Baa Baas maintained possession however and scrum-half Ellis, the Kiwi with a World Cup final appearance on his CV, sniped around the fringes of the ruck to score. Du Preez's conversion provided the final points of the half.
After the turn, Fiji belatedly opened their account for the evening with a score from Waisea Nayacelevu after good hands from his fellow backs.
Nemani Nadolo, the star winger from Montpelier who recently terrorised Leinster in the Champions Cup, stroked over the conversion.
The Barbarians response was to call for Ruan Pienaar, the Ulster hero who will depart at the end of this season, replacing the impressive Ellis to the biggest cheer of the evening.
With 20 minutes remaining, it was the other home town star on show who thought he had scored only for a sliding Bowe to have an effort ruled out by a combination of referee Nick Briant and the TMO.
An unpopular decision with the partisan crowd that, even in the spirit of an exhibition, certainly seemed correct.
While the rain was finally easing a little, both ball and surface remained slick with a few knock-ons hindering Fiji's progress and on more than one occasion they failed to use numbers out wide.
Indeed, their earlier try would be their only points of the contest with the Barbarians having the final say thanks to two late scores.
The first of which came when Pienaar tapped the ball down for fellow replacement Luke Morahan and the Wallaby added his second in the final minute with an effort not dissimilar to the one previously ruled out for Bowe.
Forward Martin Muller stepped up for the conversion but, perhaps, the less said about the effort the better.
Fiji will now try to rouse for themselves for a contest next week against in-form England while the Barbarians, after enjoying the last of the Belfast hospitality, will face the same opposition in May.
Elsewhere, Munster enjoyed a big win at Thomond Park against the Maori All Blacks.
On the site where they famously beat New Zealand in 1978, the province won 27-14 thanks to scores from Niall Scannell, Darren Sweetnam, Ronan O'Mahony and a penalty try.
Barbarians: M Nanai; M Faddes, T Bowe, R Buckman, T Naiyaravoro; R du Preez, A Ellis (capt); R Goodes, A van der Merwe, B Franks; M Fatialofa, S Carter; B Shields, J Taufua, L Whitelock. Replacements: A Ready, T Smith, P Ryan, M Muller, R Ackerman, R Pienaar, R Mo'unga, L Morahan
Fiji: B Masilevu; W Nayacelevu, A Tikorotuma, A Vuilivuli, N Nadolo, B Volavola, S Vularika; C Ma'afu, J Sassen, M Saulo; A Ratuniyawara, D Waqaniburotu; N Dawai, M Voka, A Qera (capt). Replacements: S Koto, J Veitayaki (for Ma'afu, 56), L Atalifo, N Soqeta, E Radrodro, N Kenatale, M Talebula, V Ravouvou
Referee: Nick Briant
Man of the match: Robert du Preez (Barbarians)