With Swansea RFC and Barbarians fast approaching, here's a brief history of the fixture, which has been full of unforgettable moments.
Swansea first played the Barbarians on 9th April 1901, it being the last leg of the BaaBaas Easter tour. The resulting win by the ‘All whites’ of a goal and two tries (11 – 0) was not unexpected as Swansea were in the middle of their first ‘Golden Era’, when they were Welsh Champions six season out of seven and ‘Invincibles’ in 1904-05.
Swansea fielded 8 capped players including great names such as half-backs Dicky Owen and Dick Jones, centre Dan Rees, wing Albert Freear (Ireland) and forwards Will Parker, Bob Thomas and soon to be capped will Joseph. Owen and Joseph would play in wales win over the mighty first All Blacks in 1905.
The Barbarians also fielded 8 capped men from England and Ireland and their captain, Newport’s Reg Skrimshire, who had been capped by Wales. The side sported such rugby luminaries as Bernard ‘Jock’ Hartley, a future BaaBaas skipper and Cecil Boyd, an Irish full-back who had gone on the 1896 British isles tour to South Africa. At this point Swansea had not lost a home match since 11th February 1899 – 36 home games undefeated.
Swansea and the Barbarians met every subsequent year except a three year stretch between 1905-06 and 1907-08, it usually being the last match of the Welsh tour for the BaaBaas. Due to the strength of pre-war rugby at St Helen’s and the interruption of the Great War, the Barbarians did not taste victory against Swansea until 1923, when they made up for the lack of success to date with a 23 – 0 win!
The well-draining St Helen’s pitch, built as it was on sand dunes, has had the happy fortune to develop a running open style of play among countless Swansea sides over the years, so that a Barbarians visit has always been seen as a meeting of rugby minds, the BaaBaas’ own mantra of open running rugby perfectly in tune with that of their opponents and the turf beneath them.
Swansea’s first Barbarian was Bryn Lewis, the Cambridge Blue Wales Wing in 1913. Lewis was one of 13 Welsh capped players to die fighting in the Great War. In total, 83 players have donned the famous jerseys of both the Barbarians and Swansea since Bryn Lewis turned out for the BaaBaas against Penarth on 21st March 1923.
Among them are names to make the blood race in any rugby supporter: Speedster Rowe Harding, the hard running centre Claude Davey, Clem Thomas, a back row with an astute rugby brain, the incomparable scrum-half Haydn tanner – scourge of the fourth all Blacks, ‘Merve the swerve’ Davies, scrum-half Robert Jones of the swift pass and darting run, prolific points scoring full-back Roger Blyth, Tony Clement – a supremely talented full-back who could play anywhere in the back line, the modern Claude Davey personified in Scott Gibbs and his centre partner the defence splitting Mark Taylor, to pick just a few names out of the hat. The most recent to have graced both jerseys was Swansea’s attacking full-back Nicky J Thomas in 2014.
In the 82 matches played between the two clubs the closeness of the encounters is reflected in the tally of wins to each, Swansea with 39 and the BaaBaas with 41 and two games drawn; a nil all encounter in 1922 and 11 all in 1950. The nil nil draw in front of 10,000 on 17th April 1922 was apparently a very entertaining match, Baa-Baas defence holding out against a determined but sometimes wayward Swansea attack. You never can tell! But the much anticipated annual arrival of the Barbarians at St Helen’s always heralded an afternoon where rugby was the winner and crowds went home having been entertained by a collection of players who expressed themselves on the pitch.
The last time the BaaBaas were welcomed at St Helen’s was 18th October 1994 in a high scoring game eventually claimed by the ‘All Whites’ by 41 points to 31. Many of those who have played for and against the Barbarians will be at the match on 31st May. Many supporters will recall having witnessed past encounters between two famous clubs and many more will for the first time have the opportunity to see Swansea take on the Barbarians at St Helen’s.
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