The Test team remained in Sydney, snug in their swanky hotel a shortish drop-kick from the opera house. Some folk get all the luck. England's second string did a job of sorts, chiselling out the first victory of this benighted tour – the first by a red-rose side in Australia since the World Cup final of 2003 – but their performance, especially in the second half, had all the grace and glamour of a damp beer mat. Olly Barkley and Charlie Hodgson kicked their goals, but there was no sign of a try. Not even a penalty try. Many of those who watched will never stop trying to forget.
Robbie Deans, the Wallaby coach, summed it up succinctly. "That," he said, "was a pretty ugly contest. The sooner we move on, the better." His opposite number, Martin Johnson, thought differently, but then, he was the winner. "We played some really good rugby in the first 20 minutes, and the last 20," he remarked. "It was just different rugby. Sometimes, it's the way it has to be. You find a way to win."
He had a point, even if it wasn't much of one, so let's hear it for Dave Attwood, the Gloucester lock, who dominated the Australians at close quarters and hinted at great international riches to come. His lineout work was accurate, his ball-carrying energetic and forthright, his tackling secure. His scrummaging was probably good too, although it was hard to tell against an Australian set-piece every bit as weak as expected. The home side conceded eight penalties there, two of which were kicked by Barkley in the closing minutes by way of deciding the issue.
Attwood may not find a way into the Test side for the second and final meeting with the Wallabies on Saturday – Courtney Lawes, the Northampton second-rower blessed with very different gifts, is the man threatening the Simon Shaw-Tom Palmer partnership. But he has surely done enough to make Johnson's new Elite Player Squad, scheduled to be named at the start of next month, and may well be the enforcer of the England pack come the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
Johnson excused the seniors on the grounds that they still had sore bodies from the beating they took in Perth last weekend and did not need a "long trip" – all of 80 minutes by road. "They clapped the team onto the bus and, assuming they're in bed by the time we get back, I hope they'll clap them again at breakfast," he said. For all that, Lewis Moody and company should have made the journey, if only to assure themselves that winning games of rugby in this country is not illegal.
England started brightly, to the extent that it took their opponents well over 20 minutes to establish an attacking position worthy of the name. But as Johnson admitted, they lost some of their newly discovered punch when Dominic Waldouck, the Wasps centre, did himself a mischief tackling Peter Hynes and left the field on the half-hour. The tourists were six points to the good at that stage, but Berrick Barnes levelled it with penalties on 33 and 39 minutes before stroking the Barbarians ahead midway through the third quarter.
Disjointed and indisciplined as they were, the Australians looked the more likely to register the try that might have generated some interest among the 9,000-strong crowd, at least 8,950 of whom were bored rigid. But England always had the safety net of the scrum, and with David Flatman making his presence felt off the bench, they made it count. Tatafu Polota-Nau, a hooker, returned to the field to fill in for the injured tight-head prop Laurie Weeks, at which point Deans could have opted for uncontested scrums. He decided against taking the easy way out. It probably cost his side the game, but he did the sport a service.
* Matt Banahan, the England wing, has been cited for an illegal tackle on the midfielder Berrick Barnes during the first half of yesterday's game, the third citing against the tourists in as many matches.
Australian Barbarians Penalties: Barnes 3.
England Penalties: Barkley 3, C Hodgson 2.
Australian Barbarians P Hynes; L Turner, W Chambers, A Faingaa, N Cummins; K Beale, J Valentine; P Cowan, T Polota-Nau, L Weeks, M Chapman, R Simmons, B McCalman, P McCutcheon, S Hoiles (capt).
Replacements B Barnes for Chambers, 14; M Chisholm for Simmons, h-t; H Edmonds for Polota-Nau, 42; J Slipper for Weeks, 50; M Hodgson for McCutcheon, 50; Polota-Nau for Cowan, 73.
England D Armitage (London Irish); D Strettle (Harlequins), D Waldouck (Wasps), O Barkley (Bath), M Banahan (Bath); C Hodgson (Sale), R Wigglesworth (Sale); J Golding (Newcastle), L Mears (Bath), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester), D Attwood (Gloucester), D Ward-Smith (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps, capt), S Armitage (London Irish), J Haskell (Stade Français).
Replacements M Tait (Sale) for Waldouck, 30; P Dowson (Northampton) for Haskell, 50; D Flatman (Bath) for Golding, 54; P Hodgson (London Irish) for Wigglesworth, 55; R Webber (Wasps) for Mears, 63; S Geraghty (Northampton) for C Hodgson, 66.
Referee S Walsh (New Zealand).Reuse content