The Barbarians insisted they had enough players available to fulfil Saturday’s fixture with Manu Samoa despite being labelled an ‘utter shambles’, and said it was Public Health England’s decision to cancel the Twickenham contest at 90 minutes’ notice.
For a second year running, world rugby’s famed entertainers had to defend themselves against claims of “being a disgrace” as they were unable to play their annual Twickenham outing for Covid-related reasons.
The 2020 contest with England had to be cancelled when 13 players broke the Covid protocols to leave the team base on nights out. This time six members of their staff tested positive – four players and two coaches – for the virus and the game was called off barely an hour and a half before kick-off.
The sudden predicament left unhappy RFU chiefs apologising for any inconvenience caused to fans and announcing they would be handing out full refunds. Some Samoan players were reduced to tears at having their chance of playing at Twickenham ruined, while the second half of the special Killik Cup double header – the women’s game between Barbarians and South Africa – was urgently moved forward from its scheduled 5.15pm slot to a 2.30pm kick off.
Ex-England captain Dylan Hartley and former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies condemned the Barbarians management for letting down opponents who had travelled under difficult circumstances to play the game.
Twelve months ago 13 Barbarians players caused the contest with England to be cancelled after breaking their Covid bubble and Davies claimed: “It is an utter shambles. Samoa promoted the game and pulled all the stops to get here without their full strength squad, ironically, due to Covid restrictions some could not travel. And now this!
“They get all this way here and it is called off so soon to kick off. It’s not good enough. After the shambles of last year too when some of the Barbarians broke the bubble it is unforgivable.”
Hartley insisted: “We know the sort of struggles Samoa have faced. To get here to hold up their end of the bargain and then for the Barbarians not to be able to fulfil the fixture is beyond embarrassing.”
The Samoan players, instead, put on their kits and entertained a sparse crowd by performing their Siva Tau war dance and jogging around the Twickenham outfield to claps and cheers. One of their senior forwards, prop Joe Tekori, was in tears having been denied a farewell appearance, and said: “We are sorry that the game could not happen. We walked inside the stadium to put our kit on and get ready. We were ready to rumble. We were ready to go but then we were told it could not go ahead because of Covid.
“The room went very quiet. It was going to be my last game for my country and I did not want it to end like this. We were all excited about the game last night. Our families and friends had come over to watch the game and support us. We feel sorry for them also as well as everyone else who was turning up here to hopefully see a great game of rugby.”
However, the Barbarians claimed it was the Testing Oversight Committee which ruled the risk to both teams was too great for the fixture to be played safely.
The Barbarians statement read: “Despite the recent positive Covid tests, we had a fit 23 today who all tested negative this morning. They were ready and keen to take to the pitch against Manu Samoa. The whole squad complied to the letter with the Covid protocols throughout the week, including daily lateral flow tests.
“After today’s results, we worked hard with the RFU, Public Health England and the Testing Oversight Committee, to find a way that we could play. Unfortunately, it was concluded on medical grounds that there was a risk to players on both sides should the game go ahead.
“All of our players are absolutely devastated they were unable to play today in front of an amazing and passionate crowd.”
A record 29,581 crowd for a women’s rugby union game was still able to see Barbarians thrashed South Africa with 10 tries in a 60-5 victory to lift the Killik Cup.