The Barbarians: Kevin Barry, Craig Green, John Schuster, Michael Jones, John Kirwan, Alan Whetton, Mark Weedon, Gary Whetton, Brent Anderson, Mike Brewer, Dirk Williams, Daryl Halligan, Brian McGrattan. Front row: John Buchan, 'Doc' Murdoch, Bernie McCahill, Bruce Deans, Steve McDowall, David Kirk (c), Joe Stanley, Greg Cooper, Sean Fitzpatrick, Warren Bunn, Peter Murdoch, Steve Bachop.

Thirty years ago to this day, the New Zealand Barbarians kicked off their first tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

It was the centrepiece of the club's 50th jubilee celebrations, but it also served as a prime chance for the All Blacks selectors to send away some of their candidates for the looming inaugural Rugby World Cup in a competitive, yet relaxed, rugby setting.

Five games were played over an intense fortnight, all won in fine style, and with just the bare minimum squad of 22, although Wayne Smith was drafted in from Italy as a replacement for one game. The Barbarians' ethos of expansive rugby was adhered to, and the social element was fully encouraged.

There was a lot happening in mid-to-late March in 1987. The South Pacific Championship was in its early stages, the Hong Kong Sevens were on, and the NZ Schools team were touring Japan. New Zealand was emerging from a turbulent 1986 rugby year which ended when the All Blacks were demolished, if not on the scoreboard, by France in the Battle of Nantes, infamous for the gruesome injury suffered by tough-as-teak No8 Buck Shelford.


There was ground to make up, and what better way to start the repair job than with the NZ Barbarians, the iconic national club that had fostered the game and schoolboy rugby since 1937.

The management was just the right mix. Manager Kevin Barry and coach Peter Murdoch were joined by senior Barbarians member Barry Thomas. All were former All Blacks. Barry and Murdoch have sadly passed on, as has the masseur Clive "Doc" Murdoch, father of Peter.

David Kirk was captain, and the side included 13 men who had worn the All Blacks jersey, plus six who were to do so in the future. The four who did not were Taranaki prop Warren Bunn, Bay of Plenty lock Mark Weedon, Wellington flanker Dirk Williams and Waikato fullback Daryl Halligan.

There were eight survivors from Nantes, but that Waterloo was never raised among the group. The All Blacks saved that revenge for June 20, when France came to Eden Park in the RWC final.

Fullback Greg Cooper scored 81 points in just four matches, while wing Craig Green, the only man to play all five games, crossed for seven tries. His 26th birthday was the day after the Wanderers match. He is said to have resolved to drink a beer for every one of his years. Two days later he had a helluva job marking Irish and Lions wing Trevor Ringland ... and yet it did not otherwise affect his rugby. A 17-strong supporters' group added to the social atmosphere.

Auckland's Bernie McCahill loved the tour. He appeared in three matches, at second five, centre and wing.

That was one of the great things about the Barbarians system. It was so much more relaxed. You just knew that if you had a beer the night before, you had to front up the next day at training. The guys did that.


"The management had a way about them. They were quietly spoken, never raised their voice and things got done. Kevin was a wonderful man and a great manager."

That versatility might just have won McCahill a RWC berth and a first All Blacks jersey, especially as Murdoch was reporting back to his great mate, All Blacks selector John Hart.

"It has to be a factor. I look back and think John Schuster (also on the tour) was a better player than me, but he missed out for some reason."

The first four games were all night affairs, which was unusual in those days, but cards and sightseeing were on the menu ahead of today's lie-ins and lashings of pasta.

The merits of the supposedly haunted castle in Cardiff were debated before the final game.

Just weeks after returning from the Baa Baas tour, Michael Jones lit up the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup trial played in Whangarei in May before wowing fans at the tournament itself. Photo / John Stone
Just weeks after returning from the Baa Baas tour, Michael Jones lit up the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup trial played in Whangarei in May before wowing fans at the tournament itself. Photo / John Stone

Weedon was the baby of the group, an 18-year-old fresh out of Katikati College with three Bay of Plenty games under his belt. He played two games and soaked up everything.

"I was walking around like a possum in the headlights. The awe never went away. It was mind-blowing being with these guys straight out of school," says Weedon.

The only bum note of the tour was the sending off of hooker John Buchan against Cornwall. It did not affect the outcome, the Barbarians winning 63-9, Green running in four tries.

Both McCahill and Weedon agree that the famous try of Michael Jones, from No8, against Leicester, was astonishing. Jones was not yet known to the rugby world, but that, and his main position, would soon change.

"I can still see him. He was running like a gazelle. Everything athletic about that guy came out in that try," says McCahill.

"The exact details are hazy, and it is a shame there is no old footage on YouTube, but let's just say there was a chip over the top and regather, a fend, a step on Dusty Hare (still the holder of the most points in first-class history). That was Michael Jones in excelsis. The UK press should have sat up and taken notice.

Incidentally, AJ Whetton, now the vice-president of the NZ Barbarians, was at blindside flanker in four games. He went on to be the unheralded forward of the All Blacks' RWC pack, scoring five tries.

The NZ Barbarians finished on a real high, blasting their UK counterparts in their historic first (and only) meeting 68-16 with 12 tries in a thrilling display of running rugby at Cardiff Arms Park. The blueprint for how the All Blacks wanted to play at Rugby World Cup was set.

"In hindsight, it was probably the best thing for a lot of these players to flex their muscles in an enjoyable way to take confidence (into 1987)," says Weedon.

The NZ Barbarians have made two subsequent tours of the UK, in 1996 when John Hart took away an All Blacks team in all but name, while in 2003 the club played new RWC holders England in a lucrative fixture at Twickenham. As the NZ Barbarians count down to the biggest home fixture in their 80 years -- against the Lions in Whangarei on June 3 -- they can look with pride on 1987. .

Barbarians' tour

1987 NZ Barbarians' tour of UK and Ireland

v Leicester (Leicester) won 33-3

v Wanderers (Dublin) won 34-3

v Ballymena (Belfast) won 29-4

v Cornwall (Redruth) won 63-9

v UK Barbarians (Cardiff) won 68-16