LONDON – Beauden Barrett’s first match as New Zealand captain ended in a 31-22 win over the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday.
But the world champions had to come from behind in their European tour opener, the All Blacks turning the tide with three tries in five second-half minutes.
New Zealand were in trouble at 17-5 down not long before halftime, but rallied either side of the break as the Barbarians ran out of steam amid a welter of replacements by both teams in a match celebrating the 125th anniversary of the New Zealand Rugby Union.
But the stars of the game were the uncapped Barbarians duo of Crusaders fullback George Bridge, who scored two tries against his compatriots, and impressive South African flank Kwagga Smith, who was chosen as the Man of the Match.
This non-cap game at a grey and often rainy Twickenham resembled a New Zealand ‘Probables v Possibles’ trial, with 10 Kiwis in the Barbarians starting XV.
All Black wing Julian Savea, who has scored 46 tries in 54 Tests, was looking to prove a point for the invitational side after being left out of New Zealand’s tour squad, but he had a largely quiet game.
The Barbarians took just eight minutes to score following a five-metre scrum as captain Andy Ellis – a former All Blacks scumhalf – sent in flyhalf and compatriot Richie Mo’unga at the right corner.
The tradition of this fixture is that both sides run the ball, and New Zealand flank Vaea Fifita did just that with a cross-field break, only to fail to find the supporting Ngani Laumape.
Former All Black loose forward Steven Luatua, now playing for English club Bristol, intercepted a pass on his own 22 and burst clear before finding Bridge, who scored in the left corner.
Mo’unga missed both conversions, but the Baabaas led 10-0 on 14 minutes.
New Zealand eventually hit back when a sustained period of pressure ended with wing Waisake Naholo sending over scrumhalf TJ Perenara in the corner.
Liam Sopoaga, taking over kicking duties while Barrett was in the blood-bin, made a hash of the conversion, but the Kiwis were back in the game.
Luatua excited the crowd again with another intercept but, lacking the confidence to charge on, failed to find his supporting teammates.
The Barbarians were on top and a quick tap penalty from close range led to their third try.
Ellis ran the ball before Wallaby lock Sam Carter forced his way over.
This time Mo’unga did convert and the Barbarians led 17-5.
Eventually, the All Blacks hit back when Naholo sent in Fifita for a try on an overlap four minutes before halftime.
Barrett missed the conversion, but come the 53rd minute, New Zealand were level when centre Laumape surged through Mo’unga’s tackle after taking a flat pass off a five-metre scrum for a converted try.
Just two minutes later, the All Blacks were in front after the Barbarians failed to deal with a high ball.
Laumape stepped past Luatua and replacement Sam Cane burrowed over.
Barely had the Barbarians absorbed that score than New Zealand, after their opponents failed to deal with another high ball, saw hooker Nathan Harris cash in with a try.
But, with 80 minutes on the clock, the Barbarians had the last word when a fine moved led to Bridge’s second try.
Barbarians 22 – Tries: Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge (2), Sam Carter. Conversions: Mo’unga (1).
All Blacks 31 – Tries: TJ Perenara, Vaea Fifita, Ngani Laumape, Sam Cane, Nathan Harris. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3).