By DON CAMERON
Taine Randell, spurned by the national selectors after he led the All Blacks on their European tour late last year, will return to the limelight when he leads the New Zealand Barbarians in the special match against an England XV at Twickenham on December 20.
The match is a welcome-home party for the World Cup-winning England team, and the 66-year-old New Zealand club will be the special guests.
Plans for the match were completed the evening before England returned in triumph from Australia on Tuesday.
By the time the victors had left Heathrow Airport, the 75,000 tickets for the match had been reserved.
"It is a great honour for our club to be invited to such a special match," said Ken Eglinton, an Otago and New Zealand University wing in the 60s and now the Barbarians president.
"Finding available players has not been easy," Eglinton said, "but we are delighted to have Taine lead our side.
"He captained the Barbarians in their last major match, against New Zealand Maori last year, and his form and leadership were splendid."
The Barbarians have also obtained one of New Zealand rugby's great heroes, Bryan Williams, as coach.
Over the past three years Williams (with Mark Anscombe) has coached the successful Auckland development squad.
In the Barbarians tradition, their club captain, Don McKay, the Auckland and All Black wing, will also be involved in the team organisation.
While plans for the match quickly firmed as soon as the Rugby Football Union decided to stage the special match at Twickenham, the Barbarians have been quietly working towards such a major match for the past 18 months.
Last year, when the RFU realised it might not have any major money-making matches in the November-December period, it asked the Barbarians if they could take an invitation team to England.
For many months the Barbarians were involved in discussions on such an expedition with the RFU, the New Zealand Rugby Union and various British promoters.
However, the NZRFU agreed to send some of its All Blacks on a late-year tour of France, England and Wales, and the Barbarians tour idea was shelved.
This year, when England realised the World Cup would cut across any November-December money-raising matches, the Barbarians plan was pulled out of its pigeon hole and the long, patient negotiations resumed - and were fast-tracked once England became prime candidates to win the cup.
"Even then, getting players has not been easy," Eglinton said.
"The top British clubs involved in the Zurich Premiership each agreed to release a maximum of three players.
"However, clubs with three members of the England squad could not release to us any New Zealand players on their books."
That could affect the availability of recent All Blacks Bruce Reihana, Daryl Gibson and Mark Robinson, who are playing in Britain.
"We realise that this could be a showcase match for New Zealand rugby, and that it is important we field a team of high quality," Eglinton said.
"So we are in discussion with the New Zealand union over the release of players, especially where this follows the Barbarian tradition of promoting exciting young players."
The team are selected by the club.