Banahan dreams of muscling in

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The Independent Online

Matt Banahan is a big player, but that is not enough for the Jersey-born Bath winger. Banahan also wants to become a big name in the game.

To that end, he will be flinging his gargantuan 6ft 7in, 18st frame around Twickenham today against a strong Barbarians side and trying to prove to England team manager Martin Johnson he is good enough to wear the red-rose jersey. No caps are being awarded for this match, but it is a major stepping stone to future England appearances and Banahan is chasing the dream. "The opportunity is there to be taken," he said.

Pity the likes of Iain Balshaw, who has to line up opposite someone who does not just come from the Channel Islands, but is big enough to be one.

Banahan (right) made a seismic impact in his first season for Bath, having been converted from a back row forward to the wing by former Bath and England coach Brian Ashton.

The 22-year-old scored plenty of tries (10 in the Premiership alone), generally by running through would-be tacklers. It was brutal, but effective. This season, with no shock factor because opponents knew what to expect, Banahan had to broaden his game, sharpening his defence and developing his kicking. "I added bits to my game, more kicking, more passing, people didn't expect that from me and I have done a lot of work on my defensive game."

While smaller men have more manoeuvrability, the man-mountain thinks he has the answer. "A lot of backs are a lot smaller and a lot nimbler than myself, so I have to be smarter."

Banahan, who has been promoted from the Saxons to cover injured Sale wingers Mark Cueto and Mathew Tait, is so focused on becoming an England international that very little distracts him from his goal, other than his girlfriend, his two dogs (a great Dane and a beagle) and his body art.

He and his brother Paul, who plays for Waterloo, design all their own tattoos and have half a scene each on their bodies that make a complete picture when they are side-by-side. Actually they cannot really stand side-by-side. Fly-half Paul is almost a foot shorter than his younger brother, standing at 5ft 8in.

The upshot of all the distraction was that he did not join the other Bath players drowning their sorrows after the Premiership play-off semi-final defeat, so he has not been a part of the internal investigation into the alleged fracas with Harlequins players in a London pub.

He will therefore be able to savour the last bow of two former England stalwarts, Leicester's Martin Corry and Wasps' Josh Lewsey, who turn out for the Barbarians.

England: D Armitage (L Irish); B Foden (Northampton), J Noon (Newcastle), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), M Banahan (Bath); A Goode (Brive), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Newcastle), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), C Robshaw (Harlequins), L Moody (Leicester), N Easter (Harlequins). Replacements: S Thompson (Brive), N Wood (Gloucester), C Jones (Sale), S Armitage (L Irish), J Haskell (Wasps), P Hodgson (London Irish), T May (Newcastle).

Barbarians: B Blair (Cardiff & NZ); D Howlett (Munster & NZ), J Lewsey (Wasps & England), G D'Arcy (Leinster & Ireland), I Balshaw (Gloucester & England); G Jackson (Saracens), J Marshall (Saracens & NZ); C Dermody (London Irish & NZ), S Brits (Stormers & S Africa), G Somerville (Gloucester & NZ), M Corry (Leicester & England, capt), C Jack (Saracens & NZ), J Collins (Toulon & NZ), S Betsen (Wasps & France), R Elsom (Leinster & Aus). Replacements: S Bruno (Sale & France), B J Botha (Ulster & S Africa), P Tito (Cardiff), P Waugh (Waratahs & Aust), C Whitaker (Leinster & Aust), M Catt (L Irish & England), R Nasiganiyavi (Waratahs).

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