Wales overcame a resilient Barbarians outfit to record a 30-21 victory at the Millennium Stadium this afternoon - the sixth in a row for the World Cup semi-finalists and Grand Slam winners. Next stop: Australia. The remainder of the touring squad chosen by caretaker coach Rob Howley leave tomorrow, to join the 16 senior players who are already Down Under preparing for the first test next Saturday.
It was an afternoon centred around two Welsh departing heroes. Shane Williams led the Barbarians out, having already retired from internationals with Wales. Martyn Williams had to wait until shortly into the second half before he could make his mark on the game, earning a terrific ovation from the 57,000 in the Millennium Stadium when he came off the bench. There was not, yet another, fairytale last-gasp try for Shane, Martyn denying him with a recovering tackle. At the end of a competitive game which never truly moved into top gear, Wales' intensity and organisation proved enough to secure victory.
Harry Robinson, the 19-year-old Cardiff Blues winger, got their opening try ten minutes into his international debut. When Justin Tipuric earned a turnover, Robinson showed tremendous pace to accelerate away from within his own half and finish in the corner. James Hook's kicks extended their lead to 13, but the Barbarians got themselves on the board. All Blacks fly-half Stephen Donald rounded off a flowing move to score. An infringement close to his try line then got Wales prop Rhys Gill a yellow card - shown by the same Irish referee, Alain Rolland, who sent Sam Warburton off at the World Cup. The visiting side nearly made their advantage count immediately, with only the replays sparing Wales. They did score though, and move a point in front, just before half-time. Welshman Richie Rees - wearing the black and white of the Barbarians today - seized upon a loose ball at the back of a Welsh scrum and squirmed over the line.
Martyn Williams' entrance was well worth waiting for, players from both sides offering applause to the third Welshman to earn 100 caps. The game was a bit disjointed as both sides made further changes. Donald got his second try just before the hour, with Howley (and Shaun Edwards, who was, no doubt watching on from Australia) surely left asking questions of the Welsh defence, which offered no real obstruction to the Kiwi. Donald slotted his third conversion to leave Wales with plenty to do in the last 20 minutes.
The fact that they did it - again showing an ability to win without playing at their peak - is reason for considerable optimism with tough tests Down Under ahead over the next three weeks. Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar went off with a shoulder injury, and Hook moved inside to Number 10, with Adam Warren coming on at centre for his first appearance. It was Hook who put Wales into a lead which they didn't reliquish. He took a great pass from Rhys Webb, and - although he had plenty of support from teammates - made the right decision to go for the line himself. He converted his own try to put Wales 23-21 ahead.
With the clocking ticking down, the Barbarians looked for one pass too many in their own half, and Wales winger Aled Brew stole in to take the interception and finish under the posts. Hook added the extras to finish with an individual total of 20 points.
Williams and Williams finished with 187 caps between them, and the thanks of the Cardiff crowd ringing in their ears. Howley will pick 18 from Wales' current crop involved today to join those already Down Under, as the sentiment stops and it all gets serious before the clashes with the Wallabies.
– Rob Howley, Wales Caretaker Coach
It wasn't pretty - there was a lot of turnover ball and there's things we can work on in Australia - but we've got a little bit of momentum. Harry Robinson was outstanding on the wing when he the ball in time and space, Justin Tipuric was really effective in the contact area and for Rhodri [Jones] to be on the tight head on his first cap - he had a special day as well. We're really looking forward to the challenge in Australia now.