London – England’s latest “new era” got off to a stuttering start on Sunday when a non-cap side edged the Barbarians 17-14 in a scrappy game in front of 55 237 largely frustrated fans at Twickenham.
England’s first outing since the dismissal of coach Brian Ashton was always going to be something of a stop-gap affair, with new manager Martin Johnson not taking over the reins until the end of June and with a host of players from Leicester, Wasps and Bath not considered after their recent Cup exploits.
Director of elite rugby Rob Andrew took over the touchline duties for Sunday’s game, when half the team had the chance to put down a marker ahead of England’s two-Test tour of New Zealand later this month.
Nick Easter, captain on Sunday and scorer of England’s first try when he was shoved over by the pack after 14 minutes, had an impressive afternoon at number eight and certainly stood up well in a feisty forward battle.
Winger David Strettle, back in England colours after a nightmare year of injury and illness, also looked back to his sharpest, while centre Mathew Tait was another to show up well, capping an enterprising display with their second try after 64 minutes.
Cheek split open
Charlie Hodgson, back in pole position for the flyhalf berth after injuries to Jonny Wilkinson and Danny Cipriani, had an unfortunate afternoon with his involvement ended after 34 minutes when his cheek was accidentally split open by the bony head of former All Black flanker Jerry Collins.
The Barbarians, oozing experience of the highest order but struggling to gel after a hard week of “getting to know you” sessions, waited until the final minute before displaying the sort of creativity the fans had turned up hoping to see.
They grabbed an unexpected try early in the second half when impressive Samoa centre Seilila Mapusua intercepted a Luke Narraway pass.
But their highlight came when Welsh wing Gareth Thomas, who had earlier been sin-binned for a most un-Barbarian professional foul, finished off a quickfire passing exchange to score under the posts.
It was not enough to prevent defeat for the famous black and white hooped jerseys but the full England team will find the All Blacks a vastly different proposition.
“I think the Barbarians were very streetwise and came to stop us,” Andrew told Sky Sports.
“But it was useful. It was a pretty tough workout, especially for the guys who haven’t played for two or three weeks.”Tweet