England 73-12 Barbarians

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For the first time in six years, two current Falcons were in an England team today. Though the annual Twickenham meeting with the Barbarians isn’t a test match, and the England XV contained perhaps only one first choice player in Joe Launchbury, it was a great opportunity for Kieran Brookes to start his Northampton career as a World Cup player.

 

For our other man in a white shirt, Mark Wilson, today was a chance to announce himself on the national stage after two outstanding seasons since the Falcons returned to the Premiership.

 

Brookes was joined in the front row by Matt Mullan and Luke Cowan-Dickie, both also battling for World Cup spots, while Wilson backed up the scrum with Josh Beaumont and Jack Clifford in a back row that could yet take the field for England in 2019.

 

Both Wilson and Brookes made their presence felt early on with some tackles, as the home players looked to press their World Cup claims.

 

Cowan-Dickie’s great line into a gap, drawing in the last defender allowed Marland Yarde to score the first try after ten minutes. Both Wilson and Brookes were involved in the build-up to the try; Brookes in particular popped a nice pass to Henry Slade so the Exeter man could unleash his team-mate for the assist. Brad Thorn, the Barbarians’ soon-to-retire captain, got the invitational team on the scoreboard with an unconverted try.

 

Thomas Waldrom, on the Barbarians side but not completely out of contention for the World Cup after a fantastic season alongside Slade and Cowan-Dickie at Sandy Park, was sent to the bin in the middle of the half and England took advantage by driving a lineout towards the line. Leicester captain Ed Slater touched down the try, and Danny Cipriani kicked the conversion to put England 17-5 up after 22 minutes.

 

The third try, just before Waldrom returned to the field, was made mainly by some lovely feet by Elliot Daly, dancing past the Barbarians’ full-back before setting up Clifford to run in unopposed. If England want a like-for-like replacement for Jonathan Joseph in the World Cup squad, Daly must be the leading contender.

 

It took just over half an hour for the bonus-point try (were this a league) to come, Yarde finding himself trapped on the left touchline and dribbling inside for Christian Wade to run onto, putting England 31-5 up. Not bad against a strong Barbarians side, many of whom beat an Ireland side containing more first-choice players than England’s last week.

 

Yarde and Wade combined again just minutes later for try number five, Daly’s dummy run confusing the defence so Cipriani could find Yarde, and the Harlequin passed to Wade on the right for the Wasp to run in behind the posts.

 

Wade almost got a ten-minute hat-trick, but was hauled down a metre out but his one-handed offload to Cipriani. Brookes played a big part on the try, having legged it after Daly’s long kick he tackled David Smith and contributed to England turning over in the 22. The half-time score was 45-5, almost as many after half a game as England scored against France in the Six Nations.

 

Both Newcastle boys had shown up well in the first forty, Brookes probably more obviously despite there being few scrums, but Wilson was also quietly putting in a decent shift in attack and defence.

 

After half-time, it took less than two minutes for England to bring up 50 points. Slade hung on Cowan-Dickie’s shoulder as the hooker drove forward, and as the hooker was tackled he offloaded to his fellow Chief, Slade showing-and-going over the line.

 

The Barbarians had a rare attack and as England tackled in the left corner, George Smith dropped his pass to Waldrom but the Exeter number eight picked up off the floor and dived over from a metre out. Referee George Clancy went upstairs (actually I guess it’s outside) to check Smith’s pass, and though it looked to me to be backwards, the officials deemed the evidence inconclusive and so the try was given. The difference was back to 40 points at 52-12.

 

It threatened to be a short-lived comeback as Wade stormed after a long kick and beat the defender to pick up, but trying to touchdown one-handed, the Wasps winger lost control and dropped the ball forwards, missing out on a hat-trick.

 

Things quietened down for a little while, before Cipriani made a great tackle on David Smith to prevent another Barbarians try, but England then came upfield. Wilson and replacements Jon Fisher and Shane Geraghty combined to set up Josh Beaumont to race in for another England try.

 

Thorn’s last act in the game, with 70 minutes gone, was a big late tackle on Slade that saw the former All Black second-rower shown a yellow card, the big man laughing as he walked to the benches. In context of a non-competitive game and Thorn’s impending retirement, that wasn’t too bad, as the tackle wasn’t really dangerous.

 

Wade finally got the hat-trick try his attacking threat deserved with six minutes to go, chipping ahead and battling with Ugo Monye for the loose ball before touching down just over the line. Cipriani’s conversion brought the score to 66-12.

 

After the kick, commentator Stuart Barnes named Cipriani as his man of the match, a fair choice after a perfect kicking display (one penalty and nine conversions as well as a try) and a creative show with the ball by the Sale fly-half. Cipriani’s selection at fly-half with Slade at centre suggests that he was in pole position to be a third ten in the World Cup squad if Stuart Lancaster is sensible and decides to take cover for George Ford and Owen Farrell, and he did his chances no harm this afternoon.

 

Cipriani had the last word, dummying his way in for England’s tenth try down the left. Converting his own try, Cipriani made the final score 73-12.

 

The Barbarians did not play well, perhaps due to many playing in Limerick on Thursday night, perhaps due to not having lots of time to train together, although in the past the latter hasn’t stopped Barbarians teams beating stronger international teams than this England side, indeed it didn’t in Ireland last week. However, England were very good at starving their opponents of possession and took their chances clinically.

 

Tougher tests lie ahead in the World Cup warm-ups and then the tournament itself, but for now, Lancaster et al will be satisfied with most of what they saw today and several players provided food for thought, notably Wade, Cipriani, Slater, Cowan-Dickie and Daly.

 

Mark Wilson played the whole 80 minutes and was industrious throughout, getting himself into breakdown after breakdown and making a couple of good runs. Surely, my fellow Geordie Cumbrian will finally be in the Saxons squad next season.

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Wales 16-21 England

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Friday 6 February 2015 – 8.05pm

Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

RBS Six Nations #1

 

The biggest thing I always notice when I watch an international between two top teams, such as Wales and England, is how much higher the standard is compared to the lower reaches of the Premiership. I guess that’s to be expected. The kicking from hand is so much more accurate and long, the passing so much more accurate, the pace and aggression so much higher.

 

Another thing is how much bigger the pitches are, so to kick from one 22 to the other, as you see Mike Brown and Leigh Halfpenny doing, you need quite a boot.

 

The first half of tonight’s game was quite fascinating, with England’s forwards on top a lot of the time, but also lacking discipline at times and allowing Halfpenny to kick two penalties. This guy is the best kicker in the world in my opinion, so England were a bit crazy to give away penalties just inside their own half.

 

Ironically, the one that Halfpenny missed was probably the easiest in the first half!

 

Jonathan Joseph was an unexpected but certainly not unpopular selection and I didn’t think he had much chance to do anything in the first half, certainly not to live up to his billing by some as the great savior of English rugby. As I write this though, he has just dummied and ducked his way through two tackles and scored England’s second try, and ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ is reverberating around the Millennium Stadium as George Ford kicks the conversion to make the score 16-15.

 

Anyway, my other thought from the first half was about referee Jerome Garces… I presume he has a dog, the amount of times he shouted “Stay!”.

 

The stats favoured England at the break apart from the one that mattered, the 16-8 scoreline following Dan Biggar’s snap drop-goal on the half-time whistle.

 

In the second half England began by putting a lot of pressure on and were rewarded with Joseph’s try.

 

The next big opportunity was James Haskell breaking through the centre and he’d surely have dragged two defenders over the line and scored had the post not got in the way and bounced the big flanker backwards.

 

It didn’t work out all bad for England though as Alex Cuthbert was sent to the bin for an offence that I didn’t see, and George Ford sent the penalty over to give England the lead for the first time.

 

Wales never seemed to threaten in the second half, and England were in control but you felt they needed another try. It finally looked to have come following a drive from our own Kieran Brookes, and the ball was recycled for Dave Attwood to bundle over, but it was controversially disallowed for earlier crossing by Nick Easter.

 

You could cut the tension with a knife as Wales probed but were pegged back past the halfway line. With just two minutes left, England were awarded a penalty far out. Ford stepped up to the biggest pressure he’s probably ever faced in his young life… but made a mockery of it with a huge (in terms of significance as well as distance) kick to put England five points ahead.

 

That meant of course that Wales needed a try for a draw and a conversion for a win, and were soon sent back so they had thirty seconds plus stoppage time to go the length of the pitch. With seconds to go, the referee awarded a scrum to England and that was the end of the game!

 

A famous, hard-fought yet thoroughly deserved win for England and a great start to our World Cup year!

 

A great game that might have gone the other way, but whatever the result, the 2015 Six Nations has certainly begun with a spark!

 

 

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

Under the Clock Chronicles: New thoughts on club v country

BADGES

Ahead of a three-hour journey back north on Sunday, I bought The Rugby Paper for the first time in, well, probably ever.

It’s a canny read, with plenty of analysis and opinion, which I like. However, I must take issue with Jeremy Guscott’s column on the upcoming England v New Zealand game, in light of the club v country argument that I have written about before.

Now I tend to be on the club side of the argument. Would I rather England won the World Cup or the Falcons won the Premiership? No need to even think about it. I’d rather the Falcons beat Cardiff this Friday than England won the World Cup next year.

I’ve mellowed a bit over the years, and I understand that it is ultimately good for the Falcons that we have players playing internationally, otherwise we will lose our best players, like we did with David Wilson and Mathew Tait. We can only hope that the same doesn’t happen with people like Mark Wilson, and Kieran Brookes’ selection shows that Stuart Lancaster and co are not against picking Falcons players.

I can see why some people go the other way though, their emotions are with England and that’s fine. Perhaps it’s easier when you support an amateur team who won’t lose players to England, or a club like Saracens who can live without their internationals for a few weeks because of their squad’s strength.

Where was I? Oh yes, Guscott’s column in The Rugby Paper.

He expresses concern that England won’t have had as much preparation time as the All Blacks. Sure, they won’t have had as much time to practice their systems and re-learn about each other, but the following sentence really baffled me: “Training does not replicate the intensity and emotion of a Test match, and there is no opposition on the training pitch as good as the All Blacks”. Well, obviously. However, I think this shows a big ignorance of the standard of club rugby.

Look at Toulon. They are an incredible side, and they would surely give the All Blacks an almighty game. Therefore, surely any Scarlets players selected to play against New Zealand in a few weeks’ time will have had a game of a similar standard recently.

Intensity and emotion? Never mind the Champions Cup, the Bath-Saracens Premiership game the other week was as intense as any international friendly (and that’s what the upcoming games are, lets not forget) I’ve ever seen, and many Six Nations games, with barely less emotion. Are we really saying that our win against Exeter last month didn’t have more intensity than an England training session, and didn’t benefit the likes of Brookes and the two Wilsons as they look to hit the international game?

I think in England, a country where the clubs and national team are run completely separately, there has to be a recognition from the union that they cannot and do not need to do everything, that the clubs can complement them.

I understand why England want to keep players the week before a test match to prevent injuries, but in some cases I’d imagine that playing for (for example) Leicester against Northampton in a top-of-the-table derby game would be perfect preparation for a match against New Zealand or France.

In another side-example, why do England need a ‘skills coach’? Do they really believe that the time the players spend with England (which we are always told is too short) is better spent practicing basic skills than running defensive drills, attack patterns and set plays with teammates they do not usually work alongside? If a player has been selected for England, presumably he can already pass, tackle etc. As well as he needs to, or at least to a standard that cannot be improved significantly in three weeks away with the national side. Unless I misunderstand the ‘skills’ part of Mike Catt’s job title.

Anyway, just some thoughts on an idle Tuesday lunchtime. Any comments or contradictions welcome.

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)