IRELAND XV 23 BARBARIANS 29, Thomond Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Niall Ronan, Tony Buckley; Cons: Ronan O'Gara 2; Pens: Ronan O'Gara 3
Barbarians: Tries: Xavier Rush, George Smith, Cedric Heymans; Con: Brock James; Pens: Brock James 3, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde
Tries from Barbarians captain Xavier Rush, his back row colleague George Smith and winger Cedric Heymans helped the visitors collect the MasterCard trophy, with Brock James and the retiring Jean-Baptiste Elissalde kicking the rest of their points.
Former Ireland lock Malcolm O'Kelly also bowed out on a high, playing his final professional game at the home of his long-time provincial rivals, Munster, who provided Alan Quinlan and Paul Warwick to the Baa Baas side.
Ireland, who trailed by 21-3 at one stage, fought back either side of half-time with tries from home favourites Niall Ronan and Tony Buckley, and captain Ronan O'Gara's right boot closed the gap to six points.
But a final quarter push produced no reward for the men in green as Philippe Saint-Andre's collection of world stars hung on to take a deserved win.
For Ireland coach Declan Kidney, there was much to ponder from this performance as they build for two heavyweight Tests against New Zealand and Australia - the first of which is against the All Blacks in New Plymouth next Saturday.
Younger players like Sean Cronin, Johne Murphy and Chris Henry foraged well, John Muldoon was a tower of strength and deserved man-of-the-match and some of the replacements also pressed their claims for Test selection.
With Ireland already without the injured Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris and a number of other frontliners, a stomach bug forced Shane Horgan out of the starting line-up and David Wallace and Jonathan Sexton, who complained of soreness in the jaw area, were also late withdrawals from the replacements bench.
Under O'Gara's baton, Ireland were decidedly flat in the opening half before an injury-time try from Ronan gave them some much-needed spark.
Knock ons and some fussy refereeing from Romain Poite made for a stop-start opening quarter, with the crowd baying for both sides to cut loose.
The Baa Baas had the early territorial dominance and James landed two penalties after 12 and 18 minutes to nudge them ahead.
David Smith, Casey Laulala and Seru Rabeni threatened from long range, and the latter also clattered Fergus McFadden with a first-up tackle that left the Irish centre shaken.
The fired-up Muldoon gained some vital yardage for the hosts and O'Gara's 20th-minute penalty, which cut the gap to 6-3, came after one such burst from the Connacht captain.
With Schalk Brits also throwing his weight around in open play, the Barbarians ploughed on and after Rush dumped his Irish counterpart O'Gara to the turf, a subsequent penalty was converted by James.
The scrum had been a problem area for Ireland, with Poite's interpretation and delayed calls not helping, and off a set piece in the 22, the lively Pierre Mignoni combined with Rush to send the big New Zealander over for the opening try.
James missed the conversion and after Barbarians prop David Barnes and Ireland lock Ed O'Donoghue were sin-binned for an off-the-ball clash, the tourists increased their lead two minutes before the break.
Another handling error saw Ireland botch an attacking situation, leaving Laulala with a 70-metre run to the line. Rob Kearney did brilliantly to make up the ground and haul the former All Black down, but the second wave allowed Smith crash over under pressure from Gavin Duffy.
James converted, only for Ireland to hit back with a wonderful team try, right on the stroke of half-time. Andrew Trimble made the initial incision and Henry and Duffy continued the move before Ronan used a great angle to take O'Gara's inside ball and raid in behind the posts for a timely seven-pointer.
As ever with these friendly encounters, a raft of substitutions did little for the flow of the second half but Ireland were definitely on the up and O'Gara fired over the second of two penalty attempts.
But scores were much easier for the Barbarians to come by and just a minute later, James' looping pass created a two-on-one overlap which saw David Smith pass for Heymans to score in the left corner.
The Baa Baas were content to soak up the Irish pressure thereafter and their lack of adventure, at the end of a long season, was evident when Elissalde was called on to kick a close range penalty to make it 29-13.
Helped by an experienced bench, Ireland made life tough for them in the final quarter and powerful prop Buckley fended off three defenders as he bulldozed his way to the try-line after Peter Stringer had tapped a penalty.
O'Gara thumped the touchline conversion over and followed up with a third penalty to get his side in contention for a win that looked well beyond them at one stage.
Trimble, Muldoon, replacements Tommy Bowe and Paddy Wallace were becoming more prominent in broken play as the Irish built for a final crescendo, with Munster's own Mick O'Driscoll, Jerry Flannery and O'Callaghan helping the home side increase the tempo up front.
The endeavour will certainly have pleased Kidney, but the lack of a killer finish left the Barbarians to celebrate their maiden victory at the famous Limerick venue.
TIME LINE: 12 minutes - Barbarians penalty: Brock James - 0-3; 18 mins - Barbarians penalty: Brock James - 0-6; 20 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 3-6; 30 mins - Barbarians penalty: Brock James - 3-9; 34 mins - Barbarians try: Xavier Rush - 3-14; conversion: missed by Brock James - 3-14; 36 mins - Barbarians yellow card: David Barnes; Ireland yellow card: Ed O'Donoghue; 38 mins - Barbarians try: George Smith - 3-19; conversion: Brock James - 3-21; 40+2 mins - Ireland try: Niall Ronan - 8-21; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 10-21; Half-time - Ireland 10 Barbarians 21; 42 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O'Gara - 10-21; 47 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 13-21; 48 mins - Barbarians try: Cedric Heymans - 13-26; conversion: missed by Brock James - 13-26; 57 mins - Barbarians penalty: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde - 13-29; 60 mins - Ireland try: Tony Buckley - 18-29; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 20-29; 64 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 23-29; Full-time - Ireland 23 Barbarians 29
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Johne Murphy, Gavin Duffy, Fergus McFadden, Andrew Trimble; Ronan O'Gara (capt), Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Sean Cronin, Tony Buckley, Ed O'Donoghue, Dan Tuohy, John Muldoon, Niall Ronan, Chris Henry.
Replacements used: Donncha O'Callaghan for Ronan (30-36 mins, blood sub), Paddy Wallace for McFadden (half-time), Tommy Bowe for Kearney (54), Jerry Flannery for Cronin, Mick O'Driscoll for O'Donoghue, Donncha O'Callaghan for Tuohy (all 55), Tomas O'Leary for Stringer (62), Tom Court for Horan (65), Cronin for Flannery (80).
BARBARIANS: Paul Warwick, Cedric Heymans, Casey Laulala, Seru Rabeni, David Smith; Brock James, Pierre Mignoni; David Barnes, Schalk Brits, Census Johnston, Jerome Thion, Malcolm O'Kelly, Alan Quinlan, George Smith, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements used: Julian White for Quinlan (36-46 mins, temp), White for Barnes (46), Byron Kelleher for Mignoni, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde for James (both 50), Rodney So'oialo for O'Kelly, Benoit August for Brits (both 52), Martyn Williams for Rush (62), Fabrice Estebanez for Rabeni (64), Barnes for Johnston (66), Johnston for White (68).
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
|Ireland XV Score Card|
|Barbarians Score Card|