Barbarians start player hunt for historic Hong Kong match against Lions
Baa-Baas ‘looking for Lion tamers’ ready to pull on their famous black-and-white strip
Dai Young is keen to drive home the point: a player is never "selected" to play for the Barbarians, the historic team known as the Baa-Baas.
"The Barbarians never select players. We can invite them to play for us," says Young, a former Wales prop forward and now director of rugby at the London club Wasps, who has been given the honour of coaching the Baa-Baas, for the fourth time in five years.
"Because of this approach, we have an open book as to where to look for players."
There may thus be some Asian faces on the field in the famous black and white hooped jerseys when the Baa-Baas meet for a date against another famed side, the British and Irish Lions, in Hong Kong next summer.
The historic encounter at Hong Kong Stadium on June 1 is not the first time the Lions will meet the Baa-Baas - they played each other in 1977 at Twickenham, when the Lions won 23-14 - but it is the first time an overseas venue will be the stage for this grand showdown.
With the encounter at So Kon Po being the first match on the Lions' six-week tour to Australia, it adds another exciting dimension to the picture.
So where will Young look for his players and what is the first step in the process? Will there be an Asian flavour to the squad, and indeed, will Hong Kong have a representative invited to play for the team, whose origins go back to 1890?
"It would be nice to think that our final squad will reflect in some positions the growing strength of Asian rugby," Young said. "I'm told that the first Japanese player to represent the Barbarians was a prop called Hayashi, and he went with them on a tour to Russia 20 years ago. There have been a couple of others since, so there is certainly a precedent. But we won't have a final squad until much nearer the time."
Young coached the Barbarians to wins over England and Wales last year, but is looking forward to taking on the Lions in what will be his first visit to Hong Kong.
"The annual game against England is a big enough occasion, but to play the Lions on the first match of their own major tour is really a case of the icing on the cake," Young said in October, when he was announced as coach. "The 2013 games promise to be a tremendous tour and all those involved will be committed to making it a big success."
The Baa-Baas play England on May 26 at Twickenham and then fly to Hong Kong that same evening.
"It will be straight down to business in preparation for what promises to be a great occasion. For me it will be a first time in Hong Kong, so I'll be coming into the local rugby community with an open mind and looking forward to it tremendously," Young said.
Young, who won 51 caps for Wales, is no stranger to both Lions as well as Barbarians' rugby. Two years after being called up by Wales as a 19-year-old prop for a World Cup quarter-final against England in Brisbane in 1987, which Wales won 16-3, he returned to Australia as a Lion and was ever-present in the front row that won the series 2-1.
A shift to rugby league took Young out of the picture for the next eight years. He then became the first prop to return from rugby league to union and become a Lion again, this time on a successful tour to South Africa in 1997.
Young set another record in 2001 when he went with the Lions to Australia, captaining the side in four midweek games and becoming the first Lion to play in three separate decades.
He will not be running the Barbarians show alone: Young insists he will listen to input from everyone, including respected colleagues such as team manager Derek Quinnell.
"I will sit down with all of them and have an open discussion, which will start with the basics, such as the size of the squad," Young said. "We also take on board suggested names that come from other members of the committee, most of whom are former Lions and Barbarians themselves.
"Obviously, player availability comes into it, and we have to keep a watching brief on which players are not with the Lions or their national sides next June and take it from there. We have already come up with a few likely candidates, but there is a protocol that must be followed and that begins with us going through the proper channels with their home unions and coaches.
"At the same time, I have to admit we already have several cases of big-name players calling us to say they are available, and, literally, desperate to play."
Every rugby fan knows of the match in 1973 between the Barbarians and the All Blacks, which the Baa-Baas won 23-11. It is rated as the greatest Barbarians game ever, memorable for the great try scored by Gareth Edwards. It epitomised the free-flowing style which has now become a trademark of Baa-Baas rugby. Young promised more of the same in Hong Kong.
"The Barbarians have a very special heritage to maintain and, as always, we will be setting out to play winning rugby in the best possible style," Young said. "A quarter of a century ago the Barbarians played the Lions in what turned out to be a great match at Twickenham. Both the managers next year - Derek Quinnell for us and Andy Irvine for the Lions - actually played in that game. It was by all accounts an absolute humdinger and that is what both sides will be aiming for again in Hong Kong," he said.
Tickets for the match went on sale last week.