England B. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
VASTLY more significant than yesterday's anxious England win at Okara Park here was the rehabilitation of the tour captain, Stuart Barnes, in good time for Sunday's second international against the New Zealanders. A hundred miles away the shadow Blacks were encouragingly ordinary in beating North Harbour 28-19.
North Auckland found Barnes at his commanding, pivotal best, essentially the difference between victory and defeat. Having blamed himself - in particular the missed place-kicks and misplaced kicks which had let him down - for last Sunday's 24-18 first-Test defeat, he urgently needed the therapy of 19 points which included a superb individual try.
'From a personal point of view, it was an extremely valid exercise,' he said. 'I got rid of the bogy and I thought I had my best game on tour by some way. I was pleased because I felt fully in control again - much more my old relaxed self.'
Other individuals, especially Steve Ojomoh but also his back- row partners Mark Russell and Justyn Cassell, impressed as well in another collective performance that promised far more than it delivered. Though heavily penalised, the English line-out was reasonably productive - mainly through Dave Sims - but the continuity that New Zealand teams find so much easier to achieve was again absent and far too much possession was turned over in the tackle.
North Auckland were the tour's only First Division opposition and yesterday's fixture, awkwardly placed between the two internationals, had been ominous in prospect. Less so, however, in fact, because the province lacked their two leading forwards, the All Black lock Ian Jones and NZ XV flanker Glenn Taylor, and fielded almost as many youngsters as England did.
They have had a wretched season to date and never came at England with the ferocity of the other, lesser provincial sides the tourists had already encountered. 'They tried to play a bit more football, which probably worked in our favour,' Barnes noted.
But the Northlanders' preference for expansive rugby did also stretch England to the limit, creating problems that were exacerbated by an excess of missed tackles. None of Norman Berryman's three tries, the first and last concluding the final movement of each half, would have been scored if the first challenge had been decisive.
If there is one message Harvey Thorneycroft and Gavin Thompson will take home with them next week it is that if you let New Zealanders get past they are liable to exploit their good fortune to the full. It meant that every time the B team appeared about to pull clear, they were instead pulled back.
Having said that, this was a result which would have been perfectly acceptable when at the outset of the tour. Indeed the early try by Russell followed by Cassell's at the start of the second half and later augmented by Ojomoh's and Barnes's suggested rather strikingly instances of what might have been.
Thorneycroft made up for his tackling lapse with the spectacular run that put Cassell over and the sight of Barnes accelerating like a rat up a drainpipe from 30 yards was the final proof of the captain's - and by extension his team's - renewed well-being.
North Auckland: Tries Berryman 3; Conversions Johnston 3; Penalties Johnston 3. England B: Tries Russell, Cassell, Ojomoh, Barnes; Conversions Barnes 3; Penalties Barnes 2; Drop goal Barnes.
NORTH AUCKLAND: W Johnston (Hora Hora); N Berryman (Southern), M Younger (Dargaville), M Seymour (Hora Hora, capt), Q Cherrington; R le Bas (Hikurangi), P Thomas (Hora Hora); C Barrell (Kamo), D Jurlina (Eastern), J Barrell (Kamo), G Crawford (Hikurangi), R Thomas (Hora Hora), A Campbell (United-Kawakawa), R Hilton-Jones, M Hilton-Jones (Hikurangi).
ENGLAND B: J Steele (Northampton); A Harriman, G Thompson (Harlequins), G Childs (Wasps), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); S Barnes (Bath, capt), D Scully (Wakefield); M Hynes (Orrell), K Dunn (Gloucester), A Mullins (Harlequins), M Haag (Bath), D Sims (Gloucester), M Russell (Harlequins), S Ojomoh (Bath), J Cassell (Saracens).
Referee: A Riley (Cambridge, Waikato).
Eroni Clarke scored two tries as New Zealand beat the Australian Capital Territory 45-13, in Canberra yesterday, keeping an unbeaten record on their Australian tour.
Stephane Graou was sent off for punching 28 minutes after coming on as a replacement in France's 32-30 loss to the provincial side, Cuyo, in Mendoza, Argentina.Reuse content