New Zealand ended 2009 on a low point on Saturday as a Bryan Habana hat-trick-inspired Barbarians beat them 25-18 at Twickenham.
New Zealand ended 2009 on a slightly sour note on Saturday as a Bryan Habana hat-trick-inspired Barbarians beat them 25-18 at Twickenham.
The dashing Springbok winger was treated to a standing ovation at HQ as reward for a dazzling display of finishing that saw him named man of the match.
Ben Smith and lock Anthony Boric crossed for New Zealand – the world's top ranked side – but it was not enough to prevent the Barbarians from clinching a famous victory.
Australia fly-half Matt Giteau must have pushed Habana close for the man of the match honours after booting seven points and proving a thorn in the All Blacks' side throughout.
Barbarians fixtures are traditionally preceded by a discussion over their relevance in the modern game, though the 63,554 crowd that descended on Twickenham clearly thought they still have a role to play.
As a spectacle the contest just about lived up to expectation, though it was fascinating throughout and was more akin to a Test match than a crowd-pleaser.
The Barbarians' line-up contained 925 caps including six Springboks and while they sought to honour their swashbuckling tradition, New Zealand provided typically resilient opposition.
The All Blacks fielded what was effectively their second string – skipper Richie McCaw aside – and suffered the first defeat of a gruelling five-match tour that ended on Saturday.
The crowd had come to be entertained so New Zealand's decision to take an early kick at goal – Stephen Donald landed the points – drew a chorus of boos.
Provoked by the response, both teams began running at each other with intent and it was unfortunate the All Blacks' ambition proved their undoing in the eleventh minute.
Hooker Corey Flynn surged into the 22 and placed the ball down in the hope of recycling it – but there was no support.
Showing quick thinking, Wallaby full-back Drew Mitchell scooped up possession and dashed 30 metres before supplying the scoring pass to Habana.
Matt Giteau made the tricky touchline conversion and kept the pressure on with a muscular run that swept him within five metres of the line.
Scrum-half Fourie du Preez almost wriggled over but was denied by McCaw in the nick of time.
The Barbarians were on the rampage, but New Zealand responded with a precise series of moves that restored their lead.
Luke McAlister made the initial break that stretched the Barbarians' defence, creating an overlap that straight running and quick hands exploited to send Smith over.
New Zealand seemed in control but Habana pounced for his second try, grabbing a loose pass by Donald to race home after juggling with the ball and giving the Barbarians a 14-10 half-time lead.
Only a try-saving tackle by McAlister prevented Rocky Elsom from crossing in the right corner after being teed-up by a crossfield bomb from Giteau.
It was then Habana's turn to come to his side's rescue, preventing Brendon Leonard from crossing after the All Blacks has spent several minutes pounding at the line with a series of scrums.
The Barbarians' determination to win was underlined when Giteau slotted his first penalty with three points sparking a period of domination from the invitational team.
But once again McAlister strode into space, starting a move that was finished when Boric crashed over.
Leading 17-15, the Barbarians raced in their third try with Habana inevitably accepting the crucial pass after Giteau's slippery run has caused doubt in New Zealand's defence.
Substitute Mike Delany landed a penalty with nine minutes to go but Morne Steyn stepped off the bench to respond in kind and the Barbarians successfully closed out the game.
Tries: Habana 3
Con: Giteau 2
Pen: Giteau, Steyn
For New Zealand:
Tries: Smith, Boric
Pen: Donald, Delany
Barbarians: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 George Smith, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Victor Matfield (capt), 4 Carlo del Fava, 3 WP Nel, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Quintin Geldenhuys, 19 Andy Powell, 20 Will Genia, 21 Morne Steyn, 22 Leigh Halfpenny.
New Zealand: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 John Afoa, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Adam Thomson, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Sitiveni Sivivatu.
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France, David Changleng (Scotland)
TMO: Andrew Turner (England), Graham Hughes (England)