Barbarians Rugby Team (Complete Guide)

The Barbarians are an invitational rugby team selected from talented players throughout the world. The Barbarians were founded in 1890 as a touring club without a home ground.

They play a handful of matches each year against top clubs and countries. The club is famous for flair and attacking rugby.

How Did The Barbarians Rugby Team Start?

The Barbarians club was founded in 1890 at a time when the rugby season in England stopped in early March. College students and club players wouldn’t play again until the Autumn.

A Cambridge graduate named William Percy Carpmael was frustrated by this long period without a match. He dined with some friends at a hotel in Bradford and persuaded them to form a touring club with him.

Carpmael and his friends became the founding members of the Barbarians:

  • WP Carpmael (came up with the idea)
  • WJ Carey (gave the club its motto)
  • Percy Coles (became Secretary of the RFU)
  • Emile de Lissa (became President of the Barbarians)
  • Jock Wemyss (played for Scotland)
  • Sammy Woods (Australian who played rugby and cricket for England)

The Reverend Walter Carey would later become Bishop Of Bloemfontein. But at this time he was an idealistic young man and a decent rugby player. He devised the Barbarian’s motto:

“Rugby Football is a game for gentlemen in all classes, but for no bad sportsman in any class”

Rev WJ Carey

A team for all classes

It’s important to note how “all classes” is in the motto.

This was a time when many rugby clubs drew their members from the elite universities and the upper classes.

The founders of the Barbarians were ahead of their time in insisting that the team was open to any good player of good character.

The original membership had 65 players. Twenty-one were graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, so the team certainly wasn’t all coal-miners and chimney sweeps!

First matches

The Barbarians played their first match on the 27th of December in 1890 against the Hartlepool Rovers. This was the start of their first tour, which took the team to several clubs in Northern England.

Their second tour in 1891 ventured further afield into Wales to play against some of the best Welsh clubs.

Although we associate the Barbarians with international rugby, they didn’t play their first international match until 1948. This was against Australia who were on a playing tour of Great Britain.

The match was played in the Cardiff Arms Park (in Wales), and the Barbarians won a close match with nine points to six.

Why Are The Barbarians Rugby Team Called The Barbarians?

There are several explanations of why the founders chose the Barbarians as the name for their team. I’ll give you the two most credible reasons here.

A bit of banter

If anyone would know why Barbarians was chosen as the name, it would be someone present at Carpmael’s dinner when he proposed the new touring team.

Emil de Lissa was one of the diners. De Lissa became President of the new club and carried out these duties for decades.

He published a history of the club records years in 1993. This is what he had to say about the club name:

“Barbarian was chosen in defiance of those who would style all rugby players as just that.”

Emil de Lissa, Barbarian Records (out of print)

This would be referring to negative attitudes toward rugby as being a violent game.

After all, people still quote the old saw that “rugby union is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen”.

So, “Barbarians” was mud in the eye to the nay-sayers in typical rugby-style banter.

An erudite classical reference

With several Cambridge men as the first founders, some people think that the name is drawn from their knowledge of ancient Roman times.

This takes us back to the year 9 A.D. when the Roman Empire of Caesar Augustus was spreading through Europe. Augustus was determined to conquer the lands of what is now Germany.

Some of the local inhabitants weren’t so keen. The Romans viewed these locals as savages and called them Barbarians.

When Augustus sent three legions of troops marching through a German forest, they were ambushed by local tribes. The Roman legions were annihilated. This is estimated to be an eighth of the total army, and it put an end to Rome’s expansion east of the Rhine river.

Okay, enough of history. Let’s get back to rugby!

Perhaps Carpmael and his friends saw themselves as the wily outsiders getting the better of the bigger and better-resourced clubs.

How Did The Barbarians Get Their Baa-Baas Nickname?

You’ll often hear commentators refer to the Barbarians as the Baa-Baas. This nickname comes from the first syllables of the full name i.e. Barbars.

If you’re wondering how it’s pronounced, it sounds like “Bah Bahs”. There is no r in the nickname.

The Baa-Baas nickname has led to other traditions. In 1925, the club introduced a blazer for new members. The badge on the blazer had two lambs playing with a rugby ball.

Why two lambs? Baa Baa. Get it?

What Do The Barbarians Rugby Team Wear?

The Barbarians jersey has black and white hoops and a badge on the left breast. The badge is monogrammed with the initials BRC (Barbarians Rugby Club).

The team shorts are dark blue or black.

Players traditionally wear the socks of their first rugby club, so you’ll see many different designs.

Club badge

Here is a picture of the club badge.

You may find it difficult to decipher, but trust me when I say it’s a composition of the three letters B, R, and C.

The original badge also had a skull and crossbones, but that was soon dropped.


One of my favorite Barbarians traditions is where each player wears their own club socks.

Many top players choose to wear the socks from their earliest club.

Of course, when players are selected for the Barbarians, they are members of elite professional clubs in the top divisions. However, they may have got their start in small amateur clubs in lower divisions.

These small clubs get great pride to see a home-grown player wearing their socks against teams like England or the All Blacks.

Where Do Barbarians Players Come From?

Barbarians players come from all over the world. There is no restriction on who can play for the team.

The 1996 team that gave Ireland a bit of a hammering included David Campese (Australia), Francois Pienaar (South Africa), Philippe Sella (France), and Rory Underwood (England).

I remember the match (the score was 38-70). Being Irish, I should have been a little downcast. But seeing the top players from different international countries playing together was amazing.

And there have been plenty of Irish players selected for the Baa Baas. Tony O’Reilly has the record of scoring the most tries for the Barbarians in the 1950s and 60s.

By coincidence, O’Reilly’s number of tries is the same as the score that Ireland lost by in 1996! Yes, that’s a staggering 38 tries in 30 matches.

How Is The Barbarians Team Picked?

The team is selected by the club committee in conjunction with the coach that they appoint for a tour or match.

The committee sends a private invitation to players. The squad list is announced when enough players have agreed to join.

Who gets picked?

A Barbarians team playing an international match will usually have eight or more of the top players in the world at that time.

There’ll also be one or two legendary players coming to the end of their careers.

These older guys tend not to play the full match but get the best applause if they make a tackle or a good run!

One uncapped player

There’s a strong tradition of picking one uncapped player on the starting team.

When the coach is also coaching a national team, he may want to try out a young player on the fringes of national selection.

But it’s even more fun when the Barbarians select an uncapped player from the country of the opposing team. Supporters like to see this as throwing mud in the eye of their national coach for overlooking a rising club star.

When the Barbarians are playing against a club, they may pick a player from the club who is just about to make it to the national team.

Famous Barbarian Matches

In recent years, the Barbarians have beaten the All Blacks (2009) and South Africa (2010) in memorable matches.

However, their most famous game is back in 1973 when they beat the All Blacks in Cardiff. It was considered at the time to be the best display of rugby, and it still holds up as an amazing game.

And one of the scores in the match is still considered as one of the greatest tries of all time. The Barbarians ran the ball from their own 22 and seven players combined to put Welsh wizard Gareth Edwards over the line.

Check it out. The footage starts with a wonky line-out throw and a high (unpenalized) tackle.

The great Welsh outhalf, Phil Bennett, runs back to catch a kick inches from his own try line. Then the magic starts! There’s another clothesline tackle before the other Welsh wizard Gareth Edwards dives into the corner.

A select few

There are very few countries who have beaten the All Blacks. We can’t count the Barbarians because they’re not a single country!

If you’re interested in the rather short list, check out our article on which countries have beaten New Zealand in rugby.

Are international matches against the Barbarians capped?

You may be wondering if players get capped if they play for or against the Barbarians. The answer is that the Barbarians are an invitational team, so caps are not awarded.

If you’re not sure that this means, check out our article on caps in rugby.

Other Barbarian Teams

Other countries started a Barbarians tradition of their own in honor of the English club.

New Zealand Barbarians

The New Zealand Barbarians played their first match against Auckland in 1938.

The club is based on the principles of the original Barbarians team. However, their jerseys are scarlet instead of black and white. But they also have the two lambs as part of their badge.

The New Zealand Baa Baas played against the British & Irish Lions in 2017.

French Barbarians

The French Barbarians were founded in the late 1970s by Jean-Pierre Rives and Jacques Fouroux after Rives had played for the English Barbarians.

The French Baa Baas played their first international match against Scotland in 1980.

In recent years, the French rugby federation appointed the French Barbarians as the national B team. This meant that only French players could actually play for the team, which is not in the traditional spirit.

Barbarians Women’s Team

The first women’s team to sport the Barbarians black and white jersey was formed in 2017.

The invitational team played their first match against the Munster women’s team (a major club in Ireland). Their first international match was against the USA.