England 51-43 Barbarians: Inexperienced XV register shock win at Twickenham
By Michael Cantillon at Twickenham
Last Updated: 02/06/19 11:56pm
A vastly inexperienced England XV pulled off a shock 51-43 victory over a star-studded Barbarians squad at a thoroughly-entertained Twickenham on Sunday.
Unlike last year's game, when Eddie Jones selected several England frontliners (14 of the 23-man squad and 11 of the starting XV would feature on the subsequent tour to South Africa) before losing 63-45, the England head coach detached himself of all involvement this year, as former Northampton head coach Jim Mallinder took charge of a select XV.
Yet it was surely this year that Jones would rather have been associated with, after the youthful England XV - one which contained just one cap in the entire squad - saw off a Baa-Baas squad laced with Test quality against all expectations.
Josh Bassett, Simon Hammersley, Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt (two) and Johnny Williams all crossed for England, with Smith adding three penalties.
For the Barbarians - who reduced a 26-point deficit to three in the second half - scored through James Horwill, Francois Louw, Mark Atkinson (two), Rhodri Williams, Dave Heffernan and Taqele Naiyaravoro, but did not have enough to come back and claim victory.
For all the pre-match pessimism surrounding the England team picked, Wasps wing Bassett was first to cross on 11 minutes after a mix-up between Barbarians centres Malakai Fekitoa and Atkinson while attempting to play out of their own 22 saw England centre Williams find Bassett, who proved too quick for Filipo Nakosi.
The Barbarians responded within five minutes, however, with a phenomenal try which started when No 8 Bill Mata took contact in midfield and offloaded incredibly over the top to Fekitoa. The centre kept the move alive by offloading off the deck, before Colin Slade executed a perfect cross-field kick for lock Horwill, who had remained out wide down the wing.
Slade missed the conversion to leave England in front, before Quins out-half Smith extended the lead to 8-5 with a penalty after Barbarians hooker Richard Hibbard was penalised for playing the ball off feet after a collapsed maul.
The Baa-Baas took the lead for the first time in the match on 25 minutes. Bath flanker Louw scored after a cute lineout move which saw retired England loosehead Joe Marler make a late dart to take the throw in above his head. Close-range carries followed before Louw showed great feet and strength to step past two England players and power over.
Just past the half hour, England regained the lead with a wonderful try of their own through full-back Hammersley.
Quins centre Joe Marchant proved the architect as his step, break and offload in midfield to scrum-half Alex Mitchell created the space, with the latter's pace getting him deep into the 22 before finding Ben Curry via a deflected pass. The flanker in turn offloaded to Smith, with the playmaker producing the best offload of the lot as he found Hammersley up in support while falling, for a simple run in.
Three minutes from the break, Smith scored a try himself when he stylishly side-stepped Hibbard in the Barbarian 22 after some sustained England pressure before diving over for a terrific finish and 24-12 advantage.
A minute from the break, things got even better for England when Toulon scrum-half Rhys Webb presented a gift of a pass to opposite number Mitchell within his own 22, which the England nine offloaded to flanker Dombrant for another straightforward finish. Smith's conversion left the half-time score a highly surprising 31-12.
Into the second half, England were first to strike as centre Williams raced away unchallenged after Dombrandt had picked up a loose Barbarians pass in midfield.
The Barbarians got a much-needed third try in the 55th minute when slick handling from full-back Charles Piutau and tighthead John Afoa created the space for Atkinson to dive over.
Less than a minute later and the Baa-Baas were over again after a devastating counter-attack from the restart as lock Chris Vui fabulously claimed it and offloaded to wing Nakosi, who sprinted up the right, traded passes with Liam Messam and then found Rhodri Williams to finish.
Slade's conversion suddenly cut the gap to 38-26 but Smith kicked a penalty - to a chorus of pantomime boos - soon after with the Barbarians caught offside, lengthening the lead to 41-26.
A magnificent Piutau goosestep and break before a wonderful Naiyaravoro offload created Atkinson's second try in the corner just past the hour mark, though Slade's conversion hit the post and left the gap at 10 points.
Connacht hooker Heffernan was on hand to finish a monstrous rolling maul for the Barbarians on 67 minutes, with Brock James' conversion cutting the England lead to three points with still 12 minutes remaining.
Inside the final 10 minutes, Smith knocked over another penalty - again to a chorus of humorous disapproval - with the Baa-Baas again penalised for offside.
And when Smith picked up an intercept within the Barbarians 22 and Dombrandt finished from close range, England were finally out of sight.
The Barbarians did have the final say via a barnstorming Naiyaravoro finish in the corner, with retiring lock Horwill slicing a conversion wide off the tee, to the delight of all on the pitch and in the stands.