England 35 - Barbarians 26
What's everyone's thoughts on the game?
Here's my verdict:
Obviously the first half was good. Genuinely believe that the forwards doing the basics made all the difference. Charlie Hodgson just linked the forwards and backs nicely. Stand outs were Tom Palmer, Dave Attwood, Nick Easter and Steve Thompson. The off-loading skills were excellent, particularly from the second rows, and it gave England go forward that they've rarely achieved within the last year or so. Dave Attwood in particular was ferocious at the breakdown, and made a couple of offloads that I'm afraid Steve Borthwick just cannot make. I think this might be the start of a gradual phase out for Borthwick, and possibly Simon Shaw, as the youngsters make their mark. Parling, Attwood and Lawes are a good bunch.
Second half was almost a total disaster. The Barbarians bench hugely strengthened their team, with George Smith, Jerome Thion, and Census Johnstone making a huge difference. However, in contrast the England bench weakened the team massively. When Attwood, Thompson, Golding, and Armitage went off, their replacements (Payne, Mears, Ward-Smith, and Worsley) most certainly made things a lot worse. Things started to collapse a bit. Line outs were missed by Lee Mears, the scrum was weakened with Tim Payne and lightweight Lee Mears, there was no offloading from a far less creative forward pack featuring Payne and Worsley, and we lost the breakdown battle (presumably not helped by Armitage going off).
On the whole, I think the game made clear the value of a strong pack, and also the value of forwards looking to offload in the tackle and pump themselves upfield. In the first half that allowed the backs the space and the gaps to exploit. Both Mark Cueto and Ben Foden in particular looked solid and very effective. Again, Mike Tindall showed why he should be the first name on the team sheet, bringing solidity and intelligence to the midfield. Wasn't particularly impressed with Danny Care yet again, and thought that defensively, Shontayne Hape didn't have a great game, although when Matthew Tait came on he did himself no favours, missing tackles and getting turned over whilst contributing nothing in attack.
When the Leicester boys return to the squad, we should feel confident about putting out very strong 22s in Australia. However, it's vital to select the right team. The first half today showed the importance of balance and attacking intent from within the forwards. If this goes missing (with the reintroduction of Payne, Deacon, Moody), we will be in trouble against the Aussies.
If I was to pick a 22 for the first test now I'd go with:
Wilson, Thompson, Cole, Shaw, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter, Youngs, Flood, Cueto, Barkley, Tindall, Ashton, Foden
Golding, Mears, Attwood, Haskell, Care, Wilkinson, Banahan
Picking players on form. Powerful front row. Good scrummagers. Powerful second row but good hands. Predictable back row. Best half back pairing. Most exciting and well balanced back line. Bench full of impact players. Rather see Golding than Payne, and rather see Banahan than Tait. Wilkinson, Flood and Barkley can cover centre if necessary.