England wary of Baa-Baas embarrassment

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Martin Johnson says England are difficult to beat, which they are.

Unfortunately for the national manager, far too many teams are overcoming that difficulty these days – not least the Barbarians, who have made something of a habit of embarrassing the red-rose collective at Twickenham over the last few years. If the scratch side manage it again tomorrow, Johnson will view the forthcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand with considerable trepidation.

England really should win this game, even though they are shorn of their Leicester contingent. Not to put too fine a point on it, they should always beat a Baa-Baas team, the vast majority of whom habitually play with unusually high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream, having conducted most of their training sessions in the bar. As one recent international said this week: "It's not the best feeling, being beaten for pace by your opponent and smelling the beer on his breath as he goes by.''

This latest team from Barbaria may have prepared no differently to any of their predecessors, but there is a dangerous look about them all the same. The three Frenchmen in the back division – the wing Cedric Heymans, the centre Florian Fritz and the outside-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde – are top-notch individuals, although the latter is more accomplished when he plays at nine rather than 10. There is also something scary about a back-row combination of Rodney So'oialo, Martyn Williams and the Auckland-Cardiff folk hero Xavier Rush, who leads the side.

We can be sure that the invitation side's invitation coach, Philippe Saint-Andre, has used his limited time wisely: well versed in the strengths and weaknesses of English rugby after spells at Gloucester and Sale, he is a clever so-and-so when it comes to hatching a game plan against the clock. He has not been blessed with the youngest tight unit in rugby history, but tough old nuts like Rodrigo Roncero, Benoit August and Julian White will fancy their chances of cuffing a few callow England newcomers around the ear.

On the other hand, Johnson has spent well over a week with his players, most of whom are looking at the bright lights ahead, rather than at the fading ones over their shoulders. If England fail against this lot, what price their chances against a Wallaby side with the look of World Cup winners about them?

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