Eddie Jones and his Wallabies have ridden again in the guise of the Barbarians – but, alas, the result was just the same for rugby’s favourite pantomime villain.
Five days after quitting as Australia coach amid a rare old tumult, Jones was back to oversee 10 of his former Wallabies in the famous invitation side on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) to play Wales in Cardiff but ended up presiding over a 49-26 defeat.
There was a crescendo of boos from the 53,271 crowd each time Jones’s face appeared on the big screen in the Principality Stadium, which seemed to give a lie to the observation from his wife earlier in the week that “the Welsh people are nice to you, aren’t they?”
Ultimately, just as six weeks ago when the Welsh crushed Australian World Cup dreams in Lyon with a 40-6 drubbing, Warren Gatland again trumped his old sparring partner Jones, albeit in a very different cavalier, 11-try exhibition affair.
In truth, Jones probably got more out of his hastily-assembled side, who showed plenty of the famed Baa-baas’ attacking style, than what he squeezed from Australia in France.
And, ironically, his black-and-white hooped Wallabies really shone, with the excellent Tom Hooper scoring one of their four tries, replacement prop Angus Bell’s rampaging run leading to another and Rob Valetini thundering around to great effect.
Taniela Tupou was fabulous on the rampage both early and late, while missing a large chunk of the game with an injury he eventually shook off.
Yet the day belonged to Baa-baas captain Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh giant making his international farewell against the team he captained with such distinction.
The world record cap holder even bowed out with a try, as the crowd rose to him and two other departing Welsh heroes, Leigh Halfpenny, who kicked all five of his conversions for Wales, and Justin Tipuric, who foraged splendidly for the Baa Baas.
“I want to thank the crowd, the people who’ve been coming here for 18 years and spend their hard-earned money to watch Wales through the good times and the bad,” said Jones, smiling that the man-of-the-match award was “a bit of tokenism” but he’d accept it gracefully anyway.
And with a nod to his old Australian rival, he added: “It’s a bit surreal – I don’t know what was more strange, playing with Michael Hooper or playing against Wales!”
Coach Jones had insisted his side, featuring eight of his World Cup squad, plus the discarded Michael Hooper and Len Ikitau, were not out for “revenge”.
Instead, he had shut out all the furore surrounding his controversial Wallabies’ departure and reckoned he was looking forward to a fixture that was just a “celebration of rugby”.
He got what he wanted, with both sides throwing the ball around with rare abandon, chucking plenty of outlandish offloads, as the Welsh scored seven tries – two from Kieran Hardy plus others from Dewi Lake, Tom Rogers, Sam Costelow, Taine Plumtree and Aaron Wainwright.
The Baa Baas settled for scores from Hooper, Jones and a double from Fijian halfback Simione Kuruvoli.
Any feelgood, though, was marred by the pre-match news that one of the Barbarians, Fijian lock Api Ratuniyarawa, had been withdrawn from the squad after appearing in court in Cardiff just hours before on sexual assault charges.
Ratuniyarawa denied the alleged offences that were said in court to have happened at a Cardiff city centre nightclub earlier in the week when he was on a night out with the team.
The sensitivity surrounding the episode prompted Jones and the Barbarians not to stage their usual post-match press conference.