Over the last 123 years the name 'Barbarians' has gained
a distinguished place in our rugby dictionary.
Formed in England in 1890 as an invitation side which played
matches over the Easter weekend, the club gained a New Zealand
connection in 1935 when one of the touring All Blacks, Hugh
McLean, spent an evening with one of the Barbarians founders,
Emile de Lissa.
Two years later, in 1937, McLean was approached to field
an invitation side to play a benefit match for the Thames
Valley sub-unions, who were suffering financially. McLean
had already taken on the Barbarian belief that rugby has a
special spirit that must be encouraged in young and old rugby
folk. As a non-profit organisation, the club aimed to use
any money gained to nurture or improve the game.
McLean and his great friend Ron Bush assembled a team of
old stars and promising youngsters for the game at Thames.
The match was highly successful, the Thames sub-union bank
account was repaired, the players enjoyed each other's wish
to play free-flowing rugby, and the idea of invitation teams
picked for special matches blossomed.
McLean and Bush planned further matches, and were delighted
when the foundation club in England gave them permission to
use the Barbarians name. The timing was perfect, and what
became the New Zealand Barbarian Rugby Football Club fielded
an invitation side against Auckland in 1938. In their bright
scarlet jerseys, with a bouncing lamb on the left breast,
the first real NZ Barbarians side defeated Auckland 43-16
on Eden Park, with brilliant rugby which relit the flames
that the Springboks had doused the year before.
Following the Second World War the Barbarians, calling on
the heroes of the fabled 2nd NZEF 'Kiwis' team, played benefit
matches and exhibitions which spread the gospel of adventurous
rugby in Auckland and in many parts of the North Island.
The Barbarians stepped up to international level when they
fielded a mixture of 1956 Springboks and All Blacks against
the Coronation Shield Districts XV, a game hastily arranged
at Eden Park midweek while the Springboks were awaiting their
During the '60s and afterwards the Auckland Rugby Union formed
an injured players insurance scheme and the Barbarians were
central figures in many sparkling fundraising Sunday matches
against Maori and Auckland teams.
During the '70s, Barbarians teams toured within New Zealand
and Australia and in 1987 took a very successful team to the
UK, containing many of the players who were to win the first
Rugby World Cup later that season.
In the meantime the Barbarians found their first permanent
home in the early 1970s with the purchase of a clubhouse in
Cricket Avenue. This eventually became crammed with priceless
rugby memorabilia and was a fitting headquarters in which
to welcome the famous and fervent right folk from all over
the city, the country and the world.
Sadly, the headquarters at 17 Cricket Avenue are there no
longer, having made way for the redevelopment of Eden Park
for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
As well as playing in major benefit games, the Barbarians
developed a programme of educational midweek matches against
college First XVs in the wider Auckland area.
But as professionalism changed the face of rugby, so have
the Barbarians had to adapt to these changes.
While access to players for college games is now more difficult
because of professional player contracts, insurance restrictions
and sometimes coaches' instructions, the Barbarians have had
to look at other sources for players to ensure one of the
very important and always enjoyable activities of the Baabaas
continues each year.
And opportunities will always occur. In 2003 the Barbarians
had the distinction of being invited to play against England
at Twickenham, the home-coming game for England, after it
won the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Since 1989 the Barbarians have maintained contact with primary
schools in the Auckland region through an annual fun day.
This has become a significant event in the Barbarian season
and has grown in size and quality to the extent that some
40 teams and more than 700 boys and girls participate each
With support for the primary schools' fun day still growing,
and with college games still an important part of the Barbarians
calendar, the Barbarians have entered into a contract to support
secondary schools rugby. So, in a joint effort with Novotel
Hotels and Williments, the club sponsors the secondary schools
Top 4 First XV tournament, which also caters for co-ed schools,
and the schools' regional tournaments.
In 2009 the club extended its support to a growing development
in rugby - the Under 85kg competitions which are seen as an
important part of 'grassroots' rugby.
This grade is finding strong favour among a number of unions,
and this led to the Barbarians, who term the grade 'Middleweight',
to annually select a middleweight team for a game against
In 2012 a NZ Barbarians Schools side was fielded and did
the club proud with two sterling victories over their Australian
and Samoan counterparts. In 2013 the club is sponsoring the
NZ Area Schools side, for top young players outside the main
So the changing rugby tide has taken the Barbarians into
a variety of new directions over the years.
The club is robust and enthusiastic about the future and
determined to maintain its prominent contribution to the development
of the game of rugby.