Barritt brings Saracens spirit to cause of national defence
Sunday 05 February 2012
Brad Barritt limping around, refusing to leave the battle until ordered off the pitch after 71 lung-busting minutes of heroic defensive work, summed up the cussed nature of the England performance.
True, there were more high-profile try-saving tackles, by Ben Youngs and Ben Foden, but for sheer determination as wave after wave of blue bodies struck the English defensive wall, Barritt deserved the plaudits. The sight of him holding on to Sean Lamont's ankle as the Scottish centre was felled two yards short would have warmed the hearts of those Saracens team-mates not on duty in Edinburgh.
They have known for some time about the strengths of this South African-born centre, who was deemed not good enough to go to the 2011 World Cup. His kind of low-profile work would have been very welcome. Thanks to that disastrous campaign, Barritt made his debut alongside a fellow Sarries new boy, Owen Farrell, born-again Charlie Hodgson and the impressive David Strettle on the wing.
Build your midfield around the reigning English champions and you give yourself half a chance of success; add Andy Farrell, the Sarries head coach, and it looks an even better call. All four Saracens backs made significant contributions, giving England something to work from as they head to Italy. The locals there will want to expose the gaps Scotland found, but they will also recognise the bedrock on which this victory was built.
Strettle's career has been shaped by the series of breaks to a bone in his foot while at Harlequins, but a return to full fitness and a move to Sarries worked wonders. He has always given 100 per cent, offering lightning pace and a willingness to work as hard in defence, and boy was that needed here.
The Scots dominated possession. But Strettle, Barritt, Farrell and even the supposedly suspect Hodgson kept on making their hits, getting an arm in the way and generally making nuisancesof themselves.
Strettle epitomised this refusal to buckle in the opening 40 minutes, living up to his reputation as the Duracell Bunny of the English game. When Scotland tried to exploit numbers on the left flank, in stepped Strettle with his own blond-haired blitz that would have had Brendan Venter, the man who established Saracens' work ethic, purring in front of his television in his Western Cape home.
When England did manage to grab the ball it was mainly thanks to one of Dan Parks's many dreadful tactical kicks. Strettle ran one back to such good effect it earned a penalty which allowed Farrell to score his first points at Test level and give the visitors an improbable lead. Then came the defensive action, and when Scotland made serious inroads on the left through David Denton, there was Strettle to hammer him into the turf.
In came Barritt to shore up a few more holes alongside Farrell, and half-time was whistled after Hodgson had got a sneaky hand into the tackle to knock down the ball.
When Strettle made his first major mistake – missing Denton – there was Ben Foden to bring the No8 down. The Sarries wing went straight over to thank him. Strettle then got on the end of a brilliant cross-kick from Hodgson and only a marvellous tackle from Denton stopped a try being scored.
It would have started with a Scottish knock-on in the English 22 that was turned into the kind of counterattack that England should produce with their back line.
Even Chris Ashton found some form, putting in a burst of pace and a clever inside pass to suggest that he may not just be living on last season's exploits. Ashton then killed off a possible kick-and-chase Scottish try and put in a useful kick to boot.
England held on thanks to this kind of last-ditch defence. They know other countries will be more ruthless, butthey have restored pride tothe jersey – thanks to menlike Barritt.
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