Midfield experiment shows Banahan is centre of learning

"Not every game," Martin Johnson said, "will be played the same way as the Australia game." Which was the England manager's way of saying, when he named his starting XV against Samoa, that just because the home side exhilarated one week, don't expect them to do so seven days later.

The other thing that Johnson emphasised 72 hours ahead of the contest with Samoa was the value of continuity. He conceded that advantage when he made four changes from the side that beat Australia 35-18, the most significant of them in the midfield and back row; today he and his coaching team will start to analyse the benefits of those changes and whether they can have a place in the squad preparing for next September's World Cup.

It is a year to the day since Matt Banahan played his previous international and allowance will be made for that, and for his lack of familiarity with the role of centre. Coaches, both at Banahan's club, Bath, and England can talk all they like about the potential of a 6ft 7in and 17st 9lb presence in midfield, but the fact remains that learning the role should not be done in an international.

Johnson's hopes are easily recognised: where New Zealand can come up with a Sonny Bill Williams, France with a Damien Traille, Wales with a Jamie Roberts, can England come up with Banahan? Unless he experiments, Johnson cannot know, and yesterday was the perfect opportunity to discover more. No disrespect to Samoa, but you would expect All Blacks or Wallabies to punish poor decisions more clinically than the Pacific Islanders.

There was the hope, too, that Banahan and Shontayne Hape would work in sympathy, knowing each other well from their club environment. It did not quite work out like that. As individuals, both had their moments, Hape by attracting defenders to him while trying to make space for others, Banahan by taking up intelligent support lines, but they could not work off each other in a game lacking rhythm and against defenders tackling with traditional relish. If Twickenham did not see Seilala Mapusua in attack as often as he appears there for London Irish, England know all about his defensive skills.

Banahan is only 23 and, in all but a handful of first-class games, his experience has been on the wing. His first involvement was a missed tackle on George Pisi, his second a strong charge halted abruptly by the referee's whistle because of obstruction by Courtney Lawes. Where England, both as individuals and as a team, sought momentum, they were denied both by Samoa's defence and their own high error-count.

Yet Banahan finished with one try (after a run-around by Hape) and might have had two had not Mark Cueto put a foot in touch while laying on the scoring pass. He was given the full 80 minutes, even if England's back-line was at sixes and sevens in the final moments, when Charlie Hodgson's arrival pushed Toby Flood out to centre and Delon Armitage replaced Chris Ashton.

Against South Africa next Saturday, Johnson will surely restore Mike Tindall to play alongside Hape. Clearly it will help England if Bath play Banahan in the centre but,with Hape and Olly Barkley available, the club will only do so on select occasions.

Hape and Banahan might have achieved more if England's back-row had been able to offload with the same freedom of the Australia game eight days earlier. James Haskell and Hendre Fourie played the strong, driving game for which they were selected but their clever opponents ensured they went so far and no further.

But this is what Johnson expected. To have highs, you must also have middles and lows, and Samoa fell firmly in the former category. "You do get a bit frustrated when decisions go against you," Johnson said as three further tries went begging, "but for that reason they had to keep their composure, so it was good experience."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform