Eyes On: England v Barbarians

Eyes On: England v Barbarians

Sunday at Twickenham saw the start of the latest Summer Tests window with Engalnd’s annual fixture against the Barbarians. England were missing a number of players due to their appearances in the Premiership final the day before, and a handful of other players were either rested or unavailable through injury, but Eddie Jones was still able to put together an attractive looking squad, however it paled in comparison next to the big names Pat Lam had pulled together to represent the Barbarians. Whereas Saturday’s final would be described as solid play, this was certainly spectacular, with the Barbarians scoring 9 tries to win 45-63, a record score against England at Twickenham.

The squad

Before anything, I must admit I was surprise by some of Eddie Jones’ selections for this match. I have really wanted to see Elliot Daly given a chance at 15 and was thrilled to see him given the shirt when the team was announced. That thrill did not last long as I realised that Mike Brown was still in the XV, playing on the wing. Brown has been a wonderful servant for England over the years, but I don’t understand why Eddie Jones seems to consider him almost undroppable. In this match, he did not have the pace to cope with Josua Tuisova and did not provide much in attack to merit his inclusion. It’s not as if he was even the only option available as Denny Solomona was on the bench and Jason Woodward was left out of the 23 altogether. The Mike Brown as a winger experiment needs to stop now, hopefully Eddie realised this.

I was also really disappointed to see Ben Youngs, George Ford, Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler starting this game given the options available on the bench. I appreciate the 4 of them, along with Brown, made up most of the experienced contingent, but what better game to blood young talent like Robson, Cipriani, Genge and Wilson than against the Barbarians, in a match where the result is less important so the pressure is (somewhat) off. Ford had a good game in attack, but against a Barbarians team that is never going to have an incredibly organised defence I would expect nothing less from him. The real disappointment in this game was Robshaw. A man who has always been considered such a reliable tackler and defender, Robshaw missed a number of tackles in this game and many of them proved costly on the scoreboard. With Billy Vunipola returning to the England fold and a number of younger back row players impressing when given the chance, Robshaw’s days in the starting XV could be numbered.

lobbe
This match was Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe’s last before retiring. He led the Barbarians to a record victory and even got on the scoresheet by taking the final conversion

Odd subs

Tying in somewhat to the last point, I thought some of Eddie Jones’ replacements were odd. Henry Trinder may not have had the best start to the game defensively, but let’s be honest no one in an England shirt did! However as England started to improve, it looked like he was beginning to grow into the game, until he was removed for a Head Injury Assessment after 27 minutes, with Cipriani coming on at 15 and Daly moving into the centre. Daly had started the game relatively well but I felt his influence waned after this positional change, while Cipriani had a couple of good moments but not enough to really catch the eye as an option at 15 in the Tests. It was reported by the Sky Sports commentary that Trinder passed his HIA, yet Jones decided not to bring him back onto the pitch. For someone who has had such a torrid time with injuries and finally put together a wonderful season, to be yanked off so early after the whole team started poorly is awful and I really hope that the commentary was wrong and Trinder in fact failed his HIA. I’m starting to get the feeling that he will not be given a fair shot at the England 13 shirt while Eddie Jones is in charge, much like Alex Goode and the 15 shirt.

I was also shocked to see Zach Mercer removed so early in the second half by Eddie Jones. In case you haven’t noticed from previous articles, I am a big fan of the Bath number 8 and thought that while he was having a relatively quiet game – aside from his try, where he ran a brilliant support line as Daly went through a gap – he was not struggling in the same way Robshaw was. Mark Wilson looked decent off the bench and I do not begrudge him the game time, but I just feel that England would have benefitted more both on the day and long term from keeping Mercer on the pitch and replacing Robshaw.

Making a splash

The scrip almost wrote itself here: Chris Ashton rejected by Eddie Jones so moves to Toulon, breaks the Top 14 record, starts at fullback against England at Twickenham and scores 2 tries in the opening 10 minutes on the way to a 25-minute hat-trick.

Though his defence wasn’t at the best in this game (whose was if we’re being honest?), his attacking play was wonderful and after being gifted the first try by Josua Tuisova he scored 2 wonderful tries, the first a lovely chip over Daly and the second a classic Ashton try getting on the shoulder to take an offload. His great running lines also set up Finn Russell for his try and he was close to a 4th try but couldn’t get downward pressure on the ball, while George Ford also tracked back well to make a last ditch tackle in the first half.

I would argue that he is a better player now than he was in his heyday with England and it is a shame that Eddie Jones did not consider him before his move to Toulon. That said, now that he is at Toulon I completely agree that he is ineligible to play for England. I know a lot of people are clamouring for him to play, but if he can’t guarantee release to England whenever we need it why should he be picked? The rule about playing in England has been clear for years and, as good as he is, I would not consider his form an exceptional circumstance given the options available throughout the back 3.

Eyes On: England v Barbarians

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.

England Selections

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