There was certainly a gulf in experience between the starting teams of the England XV and the Barbarians on Sunday – 473 caps worth to be precise, with England’s grand total of five coming entirely from Teimana Harrison, last capped in 2016.
Although the non-cap status and ‘England XV’ title came about traditionally from the absence of a clutch of first-choice players involved in the Premiership final the day before, this was taking it to another level.
Last year, the starting team included experienced regular first choice players such as Elliot Daly, Jonny May, Mike Brown, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Joe Launchbury and Chris Robshaw, while the likes of Ellis Genge, Mark Wilson and Danny Cipriani were on the bench.
While this year’s 51-43 result was far better than that embarrassing 45-63 loss, and at the risk on contradicting myself, this was arguably not an England team of the same standing. It feels rather false to call it an England XV. This was a Saxons development team.
Why this potentially rankles, is that many punters might have bought tickets and gone to this match hoping to see some established England stars playing. That’s not to criticise those who played, and it will have been a fantastic experience for them, but is labelling it an England XV playing a bit fast and loose with the truth and a lack of transparency on the RFU’s front?
Indeed, Jones took a step back on the coaching front and, while was present at much of the training and the match itself, left Jim Mallinder to take the reins. No England coach, one capped England player.
But would calling it England Saxons vs the Barbarians have had the same draw?
There are understandable reasons for resting the available regular England players – given it’s a World Cup year, there are concerns over player workload and making sure those players get a rest before training for that begins. This is also why Danny Cipriani was withheld from playing from the BaaBaas.
There is also the sense Eddie Jones was protecting the team from any potential loss – despite the non-cap status, last year the media were regularly including it as another loss on the back of a poor Six Nations.
And there were certainly positives – for such a rookie side to overturn the star-studded and experienced BaaBaas (regardless of any effect of the extensive ‘team bonding’ sessions the invitational team undertook) is impressive and there were several individual displays to warrant serious thought. Ben Curry was quality at openside, while the Quins trio of Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant and, particularly, Alex Dombrandt really shone. If I were to put money on any late wildcard for the England World Cup squad, it would be Domnbrandt.
Maybe I am being churlish to call out something so trivial. But while the brilliant performance from some of England’s future stars definitely made this a great game to watch and a huge positive for the future development of the national side, let’s call it what it was.
What do you think?
By Henry Ker