England kicked off their Summer tour on Sunday with a game against Vern Cotter’s Barbarians side. With a number of players unavailable for selection due to a combination of the Lions tour, Saturday’s Premiership final and Friday’s Champions Cup playoff game between Northampton and Stade Francais, Edie Jones gave debuts to a number of young players. At the end of an entertaining 80 minutes, England got back to winning ways with a 28-14 victory courtesy of tries from Nathan Earle, Nick Isiekwe and Danny Care.
Considering the number of players missing who will likely come back into the starting lineup against Argentina, it is a bit more difficult to judge what can be learned for the Test matches, but as many of these players will be pushing for international selection over the coming years there is still a lot that can be learned from this game.
The Barbarian Way
There’s no such thing as a boring game when the Barbarians are involved. While the Barbarians still want to win every game, the important thing for them is to entertain the crowd. Just one look at the official Barbarians Twitter feed shows you how their number one priority is to ensure everyone watching is having fun. This mentality could be seen from the early minutes when Timoci Nagusa was fed the ball on his own 5m line and decided the best way to clear his lines was to run back over his own try line, beat the England defence to the outside and break all the way to halfway. These guys will run the ball from anywhere! As if that wasn’t enough, they used the classic ‘wall’ formation for a tap and go penalty close to the England try line and also decided to switch backs and forwards around for a line-out, resulting in scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i being lifted (pay attention Bath – he did well up there). Another thing you can guarantee is that penalties will not be kicked for goal, but will instead be kicks to touch or a tap and go.
Unfortunately England under Eddie Jones are all about the result, so it was no surprise – though arguably disappointing – to see them calling for the kicking tee whenever they had a kickable penalty. I understand that it is important to get momentum, especially considering their last match was a disheartening loss to Ireland, but given the quality of opposition and the lack of experience in the squad, I think fans would have been happy with a loss providing the performance was good and the match was entertaining.
Eddie Jones was understandably limited with his player selections, but there were still a few that surprised me.
George Ford has rarely performed well in an England shirt without Owen Farrell outside him, so this would have been the perfect chance for him to take the pressure on himself. Instead, Alex Lozowski was put at 12 as a like-for-like replacement for his fellow Saracen. I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of Ford as I feel that he requires another playmaker at 12 to cover for him, which limits the possible selections. I would have personally started a different style of player at 12 or perhaps even considered starting Lozowski at 10 to give him some experience at international level.
Mike Brown has remained Eddie Jones’ first choice fullback despite what I feel has been a drop in form in recent seasons, especially at international level. I understand that with so many uncapped players in the squad, Brown was probably picked due to his experience, but I would’ve liked to see Mike Haley given the 15 shirt for this fixture. Haley may have played the majority of the game due to Lozowski’s early injury, but this was at outside centre, a position that he is not so familiar with, so I don’t think we got a chance to see his real potential.
Why Richard Wigglesworth was selected as a replacement for this game is beyond me! I don’t think that he’s a bad scrum half, but his playing style is suited to a territory-based game and he does not produce the quick ball that England likes. With Ben Youngs having pulled out of rugby this Summer for personal reasons and many English scrum halves having played in the Premiership final the day before – including my pick for the England number 9 shirt, Dan Robson – I understand that Eddie Jones had limited options, but I feel that he should have continued to look towards youth and gone for Wigglesworth’s fellow Saracen Ben Spencer, who despite having been around the Sarries first team for years is still only 24! As it was, I think that Wigglesworth had a poor game when he was on the pitch and I struggle to imagine he will make many more appearances for the national team.
A Goode Day
Alex Goode has really fallen out of favour under Eddie Jones. Though he has often been on better form than Mike Brown in recent seasons (in my opinion) his style of play does not seem to match with Jones’ philosophy and he can no longer even make the touring squad. Given his chance by the Barbarians to go up against the man who considers him surplus to requirements, Goode played well and was arguably the better of the 2 fullbacks. He played the final pass for Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try and his chasing of kicks drew a number of penalties for the Barbarians. He was so close to capping things off with a try early in the game, but was unable to hold onto Nagusa’s pass that reached him around ankle height. If Goode can continue to put int he big performances, hopefully we’ll see him back in the white jersey again in the future.
A Bright Future
While this may not have been a capped game, this will have been a great experience for England’s uncapped players. I think that all the players had solid, if not spectacular games. England’s 6 front rowers came into this game with a total of 1 cap between them, yet stood up well against a vastly more experienced Barbarians front row, especially Will Collier who caused issues for Mikheil Nariashvili all day. Man of the Match Tom Curry impressed after coming on just before half time for Sam Underhill, who had been having a very good game too. He caused problems in the breakdown and was not overawed by playing against legends of the game like Thierry Dusautoir.
Nathan Earle was in my opinion the player most likely to have pushed himself into consideration for a starting spot. I remember being impressed by Earle in the U20s World Championship a few years ago and have been disappointed that he has not had more chances for Saracens. Against the Baa-Baas, his defensive positioning may not have been perfect but he seemed to be a more reliable – and harder – tackler than Anthony Watson, while also terrifying the defence with his incredible pace. Christian Wade and Semesa Rokoduguni both appear to be out of favour with Eddie Jones, so I feel that – assuming Elliot Daly does not remain on the wing – Jack Nowell, Earle and Jonny May could become Jones’ top 3 options for the wing, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he chose Watson ahead of May.
What were your thoughts game? Do you disagree with my opinions or think that I missed anything? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge