Let’s call England XV vs Barbarians what it was: a Saxons game

Alex Dombrandt

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

21 thoughts on “Let’s call England XV vs Barbarians what it was: a Saxons game

  1. Are you sure that this was the reason for not selecting Cips Henry, or might it just be that Jones is now so determined not to pick him in the face of public opinion that he asked the selectors not to give Cips a chance to make EJ look a prat for the umpteenth time? Agree about the status of the game, and Dombrandt. So many good players around at the moment that I would love to see a return to the old “Possibles v Probables” fixture just before WC selection to give outsiders a late chance to shine in a competitive match.

    1. According to DC, EJ is in touch with him regularly and this does seem to indicate that he is in the wider picture. He won’t go to Japan instead of Farrell or Ford, but should go if one of them gets injured I would have thought. The squad announcement will tell for sure who is right!

  2. Call it what it was? What do I think? Ok, I think it was Entertainment. That the RFU labelled it an ‘England XV’, rather than ‘England’, sufficed in reflecting the home team’s composition for me. Therefore, I’m unclear if the article’s point has validity (selling column inches apart of course). Also, it’s retrospective. Better pre-match? Additionally, does it have an element of ‘excuse’ about it? I mean, being an ‘England Saxon team’, it was still a TEAM. The Baa Baa’s OTOH, were a ‘heavy drinking’, scratch outfit & according to the sage-like Andy’s wisdom, by dint of being heavily SH composed, intent on playing ‘basket ball’ rugger. That’s not to undermine the ‘E’ team. IMO, against much perceived wisdom, the fwds collectively played effectively, on the front foot, although neither team was crash hot on ‘D’. Also, as already reported, the home backs were pretty effective, particularly @ 1/2 & out wide, again on the front foot. Bit conservative by going for pens on occasion, but winners are grinners I suppose. Some, like the reffed Dombrandt for instance, could be worth a late look for WTG. However, Jones may not see it this way. I’m somewhat sceptical about protecting the ‘real’ England team from the Baa Baas. As they have a few warm ups prior to Japan anyway, would one more have made much diff? Also, maybe a missed op to have tried Cip, Daly @ 13, Brown @ full back? Ideal game I’d have thought. I feel dubious about the term ‘future devrlopment’. There’s potential for the national side, there often has been, but surely ‘dev’ means giving guys regular game time for this to be meaningful. Ironically, more likely to see this happen if England don’t fare well in Japan & with Jones gone.. & with Baxter in?

    1. Worth a thumbs up for the “sage like wisdom” Don, though I think I detect a faint hint of irony. Agree with most of what you say, particularly about the Cips, Daly, Brown combination. From what little I have seen of him this year though, Daly has gone backwards and has not exactly been tearing up trees while Marchant has had an absolutely outstanding season. A rare example of EJ taking club form into account perhaps?

    2. Just looked back at the emails trying to sell me tickets for this game. First one in February this year and it did refer to an England XV even back then. Interestingly last years fixture referred to England v Barbarians, so probably mis-sold last year rather than this year.

  3. On the evidence of
    1) Form over the season
    2) this particular Saxons/England “B” game
    would the back row consist of Curry, U/Hill, BV, Ewers, Wilson and Dombrandt and the centres be: Marchant, Manu, Slade and Hill?

    1. Whilst I agree with your back row options, I’m not sure about the inclusion of Manu and Hill in your centres.
      I don’t think Manu is anywhere near back to his best, compared to the form of players like Hutchinson, Lozowski or Tomkins? Marchant and Slade definitely should be in there, but probably only Slade will be.

        1. Well, according to Stephen Jones, that well known Englishman, you have to watch those player poaching Jocks! Paddies too, apparently. Dastardly bunches?!

      1. Yep. Been in agreement with Kvesic’s inclusion since Gloucs days, but will Eddie agree? Personally, I think that there’s more chance of Lord Lucan turning up.. to ref the WC final.

    1. I did know, but it hasn’t been going to well for us! Two of the big guns going head to head later. Should be a good game.

      1. Frustrating that I can only view highlights of U20 WC later, on ITV. If I understand correctly, WR IS showing the tournament via its web site. However, I can’t access the bloody thing. It keeps flicking back to its opening page, so I’m unsure. Anyone know? Rgds.

  4. Has anyone else seen the news that Brodie Rettalick is taking a 2 year sabbatical from playing for NZ by going to Japan – replying to you DP because I am sure you have. Clearly there will be large financial reasons at play and he has also cited some style of rugby reason too but what resonates with me is that he has also stated that the Japanese season allows for a few months rest in between seasons.

    The RFU needs to take notice that this is (imo) the world best rugby player in his prime (28) citing rest a key reason for his career choice. Somewhere above it is mentioned that the players get 5 weeks mandatory rest in a season… That is not nearly enough and it is not nearly enough for us rugby fans to miss the sport over the summer! The thought of Retallick coming back for RWC 2023, ‘fresh’ rather like Kaino for RWC 2015 is an absolute boon for kiwi rugby and our clubs and governing body should be learning from this high profile example.

  5. Hadn’t SJ. Although I was perusing the AB site a couple of days back, this wasn’t mentioned then. Presumably, Rettelick will be leaving AFTER the WC? Part of the continuing trend of a NH drain? Not much complaint up here, although if the trend were to, El Niño like, reverse, this might change. Anyway, for now the NZRU seems to make up these losses with new talent from the intensive S Rugby comp & by controlling the national playing style. NZ have tried to accommodate players’ needs before with the likes of Carter’s & McCaw’s sojourns & sabbaticals. Kaino also took time off in Japan. More elastoplasts than long term solutions however. Been covered before, but this drift enables bigger squads to cover more injuries engendered by more rugby being played which means more wages to sustain an ultimately unsustainable system. Not to mention its suppression of local talent. But yr warning seems founded SJ. Something has to give, like too many, particularly head, injuries for instance. Therefore, less rugby is more in the long term. Need inform the roll over to commercial forces Gosper & self interested parties about this, but unfortunately, they’re not listening. Mean time, we keep (blinkeredly) calm & keep ruggering on. There are 2 WC’s to be won!

  6. Didn’t know where else to insert this, but RW mag rated A W-J the best player in world, BB 2nd, Mako 3rd. Last yr OF was top!? 6th this yr. Interesting, but what might be as interning, is the criteria they use for these ratings. How can a back be compared with a fwd? Points wise, for instance? How successful the team is contains the rated player? Can’t imagine a basement dweller team producing a P o t Yr. Anyway, perhaps ‘Whinge-Jones’ got this accolade by complaining to the ref in the 6N Wales v England match to extract 10 pens? According to a Hispanic domiciled TRB punter here anyway.

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