Dowson injury gives England a scare after Ashton leads rout
England 57 Barbarians 26
Low-intensity matches are all fine and dandy at this late stage of a campaign, especially if 42,000 spectators are willing to shell out for the privilege of watching. The problem comes when the intensity level rises sufficiently to break into the "high impact" category and leaves some poor soul spreadeagled across a stretcher. This was the cruel fate suffered by the Northampton back-row forward Phil Dowson at Twickenham yesterday and as a result, he gave the England coaching team an unpleasant scare.
Dowson may have lost his place in the England starting line-up to the fast-developing Ben Morgan midway through the Six Nations, but he was still among the first names on the list when the head coach Stuart Lancaster finalised his squad for the forthcoming tour of South Africa. Lancaster awarded him the captaincy for this runaround in the sunshine and when Dowson was carried off midway through the final quarter after taking a fearful smack on the head in the build-up to the seventh of his side's eight tries, there was understandable concern.
Afterwards, the back-room staff were confident he would be fit to take his seat on the Johannesburg-bound flight on Wednesday. "I've had a conversation with him and I think he'll be fine," Lancaster said, adding that Dowson would be subject to the usual medical protocols relating to concussion-type injuries. "The good thing is that there's a bit of time before the first Test against the Springboks."
Equally optimistic that Toby Flood would make the trip – the Leicester midfielder has been struggling with injury and missed the Premiership final at the weekend – Lancaster has an even-money chance of travelling with a full squad. (He is not completely sure, for the body-count from the club showpiece has yet to be confirmed and there is still every possibility of the centre Manu Tuilagi being cited for a tip-tackle on Danny Care).
The England camp were justifiably happy with their strike-rate yesterday: too often in recent times, their annual date with a scratch Baa-Baas side awash with end-of-season ale had been too troublesome for words. Chris Ashton broke his red-rose fast by running in a hat-trick of tries, two of them from trademark positions far from his wing, though his reluctance to mark any of the touchdowns with a characteristic "splash dive" was just a little baffling.
"I had a conversation with Stuart some time ago and he told me it should be done at the right time and the right place," said the Saracens-bound finisher. "It didn't seem right here." Right in the cut and thrust of a Test match, but wrong in the midst of a Baa-Baas fun-fest? Weird.
There were eye-catching contributions from Dylan Hartley, back at hooker after suspension, and the young Wasps wing Christian Wade, who balanced some scratchy moments in defence with some exhilarating work in attack. And then there was Jonathan Joseph, the uncapped centre from London Irish. His combination of sliderule running angles and bag-of-tricks footwork left the Baa-Baas back line comprehensively flummoxed.
But given the invitation team's failure to hang onto the ball, the England backs were always likely to have a field day. "I'd have to say we're pretty disappointed with our ball retention," admitted John Kirwan, the World Cup-winning All Black who is coaching the Barbarians on this brief gallop around the British mainland. "When we kept the ball in contact, we looked dangerous outside. Unfortunately, we didn't do it nearly often enough."
Mils Muliaina, the New Zealand full-back, may have looked the part with ball in hand, but not even he was error-free. Only the outstanding Cardiff Blues centre Casey Laulala asked real questions of the home side, although the French forward Raphael Lakafia added some oomph late on. It was nowhere near enough to make a proper game of it. "You can't draw any conclusions about England from that," said the Barbarian captain John Smit, a proud South African. And he was right.
England: Tries Ashton 3, Joseph 2, Hartley, Wade, Wigglesworth. Conversions Farrell 7. Penalty Farrell.
Barbarians: Tries Muliaina 2, Tindall, Taele. Conversions: Donald 2, Contepomi.
England: B Foden; C Ashton (both Northampton), B Barritt, O Farrell (both Saracens), C Wade (Wasps); C Hodgson (Saracens), L Dickson (Northampton); M Stevens (Saracens), D Hartley, P Doran-Jones (both Northampton), M Botha (Saracens), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Johnson (Exeter), C Fearns (Bath), P Dowson (Northampton, capt).
Replacements: L Mears (Bath) for Hartley 38; M Mullan (Worcester) for Stevens, h-t; Hartley for Mears, h-t; A Goode (Saracens) for Foden 51; J Joseph (London Irish) for Hodgson 51; J Launchbury (Wasps) for Botha 54; J Gibson (London Irish) for Fearns 54; R Wigglesworth (Saracens) for Dickson, 60; Mears for Dowson 67; Stevens for Doran-Jones 75.
Barbarians: M Muliaina (NTT Docomo); P Sackey (Stade Francais), C Laulala (Cardiff Blues), M Tindall (Gloucester), I Balshaw (Biarritz); S Donald (Bath), R Lawson (Gloucester); N Tialata (Bayonne), J Smit (Saracens, capt), J Afoa (Ulster), M Chisholm (Bayonne), A Van Zyl (Stade Francais), E Joubert (Saracens), A Qera (Fiji), J Beattie (Glasgow). Replacements: S Tagicakibau (London Irish) for Sackey. 45; J Fillol (Stade Francais) for Lawson, 56; D Jones (Ospreys) for Tialata, 58; B August (Biarritz) for Smit, 58; R Lakafia (Biarritz) for Qera, 58; F Contepomi (Stade Francais) for Tindall, 67; P Taele (Biarritz) for Beattie, 67.
Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).
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