Rugby Union: A stumpy-legged chassis purring along: Stuart Barnes at last got his chance - and took it. Richard Williams reports

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The Independent Online
JUST IMAGINE how it must feel to be in Rob Andrew's skin this morning. All those caps, all those honours, all that training and experience, all those trials of judgement and skill, all those tackles ridden and pain hidden - and now, in every pub in the land this lunchtime, chaps in waxed jackets are standing round agreeing that you should never have been there in the first place. Talk about ashes in the mouth.

Unfair, of course. Hugely so. No one can erase Andrew's marvellous achievements from English rugby's roll of honour. But, in truth, Stuart Barnes's sumptuous display in the 100th Calcutta Cup match yesterday was enough to make even Rob Andrew's nearest and dearest entertain dishonourable thoughts.

The 30-year-old Bath fly-half began his first Five Nations' Championship match with three mistakes from his first three significant touches: a sliced clearance kick on his own 22 followed by two passes that had Jeremy Guscott, his club-mate, slowing up and grasping for the ball behind his shoulder. At this stage, with 10 minutes gone, Andrew's admirers were priming their righteous indignation. The Barnes camp may have been wondering if this day had come too late, if the weight of expectation would prove too much for that stumpy-legged 12-stone chassis to bear.

Five minutes later, though, a laser-guided touch-finder steadied the little man's nerves. Then, immediately after the enforced departure of Craig Chalmers, Barnes sank a dart into Scotland's suddenly shaken morale, combining with Guscott in a loop that almost sent Tony Underwood over. This, it transpired, was just a warm-up. Next, taking the ball from Bayfield at the back of a ruck, Barnes set Guscott free on a wonderful straightening run to the line for the first of England's three terrific tries.

After the interval, with Scotland's confidence crumbling, Barnes showed us the real stuff. For Rory Underwood's try, he slipped Iain Morrison's attempt to cut him off with a deft shuffle, put his head down to make a swift 20 metres and passed again to Guscott, who streaked between Scott Hastings and Tony Stanger, drew Gavin Hastings, and put the left winger in.

Five minutes later, receiving from Morris, Barnes missed out Carling and threw an immense pass to Guscott, whose immediate link with Webb allowed the Underwood brothers to find the combination that would ensure both of their names on the score-sheet. By now, you were convinced that Barnes could find Guscott blindfold in Grand Central Station at five o'clock on a Friday night.

Deep into injury time, the match well won, Barnes signed off with a final flourish, standing on the halfway line with his head cocked, assessing with complete satisfaction the trajectory of a beautifully judged long kick that landed just inside the touchline, forcing Tony Stanger to carry the ball out with the younger Underwood climbing all over him.

Afterwards, the England captain, Will Carling, paid tribute to the quality Barnes had brought to the revamped England backs. 'Barnesy plays very flat,' he said. 'So he interests flankers and centres.' Morrison and Derek Turnbull hardly laid a hand on him all afternoon; and when Graham Shiel took on the departed Chalmers's responsibilities, bringing Gregor Townsend into the centre, the Scottish midfield lost its bite and cohesion. The removal of Scott Hastings, just after the hour mark, diminished them further just as they should have been entertaining thoughts of mounting a final attempt to get back on terms.

The Scots would be justified in pointing out that, when Chalmers so sadly fractured his forearm after 23 minutes, they were in the lead by 6-3, and looking pretty comfortable and convincing. Indeed, the stand-off half had put them there, by steadying himself in front of the posts just outside the 22 and slotting his drop-kick with smooth control.

As for the English, notwithstanding their relief at doing something to dim the painful memory of defeat by Wales a month ago, they might reflect with gratitude on the misfortunes of visiting midfield players at Twickenham this season: the loss of Sella and Lacroix did as much damage to the French cause back in January as did the removal of Chalmers and the younger Hastings to Scotland's yesterday.

But even with due regard for Rob Andrew's feelings, nothing should be allowed to spoil Stuart Barnes's pleasure in his deserved domination of a game in which all sorts of things - such as Ian McGeechan's championship farewell and the captaincy of the British Lions - were at stake. These matters, like the patchy overall quality of the match and the effect of the result on the destiny of the championship itself, seemed very much a secondary issue.

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