England scupper Barbarians’ bid for fourth All Blacks ‘Test’

Lions head coach Warren Gatland was initially positive  about playing a 'fourth Test'. Picture: PA.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland was initially positive about playing a 'fourth Test'. Picture: PA.
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England have ruled out the possibility of releasing players for the Barbarians’ fixture against New Zealand on 4 November.

It had been mooted that the match at Twickenham could be elevated to the status of an unofficial fourth Test to the British and Irish Lions tour, which concluded on Saturday with the series against the All Blacks drawn 1-1.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland was cautiously positive about the suggestion when it was raised in the aftermath of the 15-15 stalemate in Auckland, and the Barbarians had also confirmed their 
interest. But England’s desire to concentrate on their three-Test autumn schedule appears to have scuppered the proposal as players from all four home unions would have to be available for the game to have any credibility as an unofficial decider.

Scotland had no players involved in the recent Lions Test series, but it is understood that none of the national autumn Test squad would be released to the Barbarians squad if any were requested. Full focus will be on Gregor Townsend’s first home match in charge against Samoa the following weekend before Scotland’s own crack at the All Blacks on 18 November and another clash with Australia to finish.

An English RFU spokesman said: “England players will be focusing on preparing for our matches ahead of the Old Mutual Wealth Series and will not be released for the Barbarians fixture.”

Earlier yesterday, the Barbarians revealed they would be looking to open discussions with the home unions in the hope of securing release for their Lions.

“We are going to assemble an extremely strong team for this historic game at Twickenham,” a Barbarians spokesman said.

“We hope it will include players involved in the exceptional Lions series with the All Blacks. The players will get the chance to face New Zealand for a fourth time this year.

“We have reached an agreement with Premiership Rugby, who have been very supportive about player release. We will talk with the home unions about access to 
players.”

As England stars will already have reported for international duty that weekend under the terms of the agreement between clubs and country, Premiership Rugby’s consent was not needed for their involvement in the match.

There is precedent for such a game after the Barbarians’ clash with New Zealand in 1973 was given a similar billing due to the number of players involved from the Lions’ triumphant tour two years earlier. The All Blacks lost that series 2-1 with the fourth Test also ending in deadlock.

England had wanted to stage their own fixture at Twickenham against the All Blacks on 4 November, only for negotiations to break down. They 
are due to meet for the first time in four years in 
November 2018.