Here is an interesting piece of information; it’s been several years since an an active American, Mike Petri, (Tim Usasz played for the Barbarians in 2011 but had essentially retired from the Eagles) has played for the Barbarians and no American has ever played for the team against another international side in the modern era. Some of the Eagles to play for the Barbarians include Mike Hercus (17 points against Leicester in 2006), Dan Lyle (two tries again a Combined Services team in the 1997 Remembrance Day match), and Kevin Swords (two appearances in the 1992 Easter tour). But with the congested schedule for top Tier I teams this summer mean that there is potential for an American to break through?
Typically the Barbarians have been reserved for Tier I players who have a break in their schedule. For example, The Final Challenge occurs after most of the Autumn Internationals, leaving players from Europe and the traveling Southern Hemisphere teams available. However, availability will be an issue this next summer. The Barbarians will play England at Twickenham on May 25th and then the British & Irish Lions in Hong Kong on June 1st. The May 25th fixture will occur the same day as the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect Pro12 finals, while the June 1st fixture will take place the day of the Top 14 finals.
Lions coach Warren Gatland has already run into problems with player selection due to the Top 14 final and it seems to reason that it will be the same for the Barbarians. Complicating things more is that the Barbarians will be facing an England team that will in theory be fielding the top English players not involved in the Lions tour. The Top 14 semi-finals and finals will mean that many of the top French, Italian, and Argentinian players will also be unavailable. Super Rugby is also in the waning part of its season.
The Barbarians will be able to draw on talent from teams that did not make the playoffs in their respective leagues, but some of those top players may be encouraged to rest by their national teams. All of the major nations save Australia play matches on June 8th and it would be hard to see players who are trying to make a statement for their national team risk injury and fatigue by playing for the Barbarians. Don’t misunderstand, it’s an honor to play for the Barbarians but there is also a level of practicality involved.
Tier II players have played for the Barbarians before. Top players from the Pacific Islands have been no stranger to selection. Just last summer the Barbarians called in five players from the Islands as well as one player from Georgia. These kinds of players, alongside some strong Argentinian players, could feature heavily once again for the team but there is a definite opening for players from other nations.
More opportunities could also be opened up if the Barbarians decide to split their squad between the match in London and the match in Hong Kong. Doing so could open up opportunities for players on Super Rugby teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention and would relieve European-based players from having to travel to another continent before joining their national teams.
The opportunity is there for American players like Todd Clever, Taku Ngwenya, Chris Wyles, and Samu Manoa for selection. Sure, some of these players may face the same scheduling conflicts as other players, but at least one of them should be given serious consideration. Look at how recognizable Todd Clever is around the world. He would make a perfect choice for the Barbarians.
Choosing players from Tier II teams would also give the Barbarians an new angle in which to promote their matches. There has been a general feeling over the last few years that Barbarians matches have lost some of their importance to general rugby fans, but who wouldn’t want to turn out to see if a “best of the rest” team could defeat the Lions? It would be worth watching and it’s an opportunity the Barbarians must take.
In the end an American may not be asked to play the streaks we hit upon at the beginning may remain intact, but they shouldn’t. All together this is a golden opportunity for American players to show what they are made of and to show that the Barbarians are still one of the most exciting features in rugby.
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