Barkley dismisses first-Test hopes

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The Independent Online

Disappointed Olly Barkley broke from the party line today and revealed he has no chance of forcing his way into England's Test team for Saturday's Cook Cup showdown with Australia.

England manager Martin Johnson has insisted from the outset of this five-match Antipodean tour that Test selection is wide open and that every member of the 44-man squad has an equal chance.

But Barkley goes into tomorrow's clash with the Australian Barbarians in the knowledge that Shontayne Hape has already been lined up to start against the Wallabies at inside centre.

Barkley's focus now is on continuing the sparkling form he showed for Bath in the closing weeks of the season and giving Johnson no option but to include him for the second Test in Sydney.

"The Test team is the one you all want to be in and I'm not going to lie, I'm disappointed not to be in the side," said Barkley.

"The Test side is organised for Saturday and to play two games of Test match intensity from Tuesday to Saturday is not overly realistic at this stage of the season.

"The selection was made four or five days ago so I had a while to get my head around it.

"I'm not one to dwell on what's not going to be so I'll be doing everything tomorrow night to stake a claim for a place in the second Test.

"It's a long tour, a week's a long time in sport so we'll see what happens."

Barkley's return to form and fitness after Christmas led directly to Hape being squeezed out of the Bath side but he is not surprised at Johnson's desire to cast his eye over the former New Zealand rugby league international in a Test environment.

"Shontayne has been involved in a few squads for the last six months now and he was due to play a large role for the Six Nations had he not got ill," said Barkley.

"I had an inkling they would want to see what he is capable of at Test level and he deserves his shot. He's played very well at Bath when he has played.

"I'm still disappointed but he gets my full support. He's a great bloke and a very talented guy."

A Test midfield of Hape and Mike Tindall would appear a great deal less potent than England's centre pairing tomorrow night of Barkley and Mathew Tait.

England's shadow side also includes Charlie Hodgson at fly-half while recent Test regulars Delon Armitage and Ugo Monye feature in the back three.

Armitage is relishing the chance to play with Hodgson and Barkley in the hope their attacking qualities will help him rediscover the form and confidence that abandoned him during the Six Nations.

The London Irish full-back partly blames the loss of his natural attacking zest on the welter of safety-first instructions issued by the England management through the tournament.

Armitage eventually lost his place to Ben Foden for the final match against France, when England changed to a more adventurous approach and almost snatched victory in Paris.

England want to use that performance in Paris as the benchmark for their tour performances, which suits Armitage down to the ground.

"The Six Nations was very disappointing for me. I went away from how I like to play rugby. I became a bit of a robot," said Armitage.

"I would be kicking the ball senselessly at times and in my head, it was kind of what I was getting back from the coaches: 'Don't get turned over in our half, don't do this'.

"In my head I just thought: 'I can't get turned over so I am going to kick this ball 60 metres down the field' whereas before I would have taken that risk.

"When I was flying and full of confidence, I would have had a go from anywhere.

"But I would see a couple of guys getting turned over in our half and the coaches were saying: 'We don't want to see that'.

"For me, this trip is about getting back to doing the basics right, getting some confidence back and just playing well.

"I want to have a go and do what I do best - counter-attack and take people on one-on-one. I want to do the best I can in this game and hopefully get in that Test team.

"In the Six Nations I probably touched the ball three times when we were running in the back line. Charlie and Olly are brilliant and they have great vision.

"We are going to have a go. Obviously we want to win but we want to have a go as well. We are not going to get into this Test team by kicking the ball away, watching Australia play and defending."

Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw will captain England at the ME Bank Stadium and he is joined in the pack by four uncapped players - Dave Attwood, Geoff Parling, Hendrie Fourie and Dan Ward-Smith.