Rough diamond Wade part of England work in progress
SA Barbarians South 26 England XV 54
There is a very big hole in the centre of Kimberley, one of the jewels in the crown of the diamond-producing world, and for a horrible spell at the start of the second of their five matches in Springbok country, England found themselves at the bottom of it. Immediately driven over their own line at a rate of knots by a scratch pack from the lower reaches of South Africa's Currie Cup competition, they conceded a try to the No 8 Jacques Engelbrecht and spent the next few minutes wondering what the hell had hit them.
Happily for Stuart Lancaster's team, the local defences were not quite up to the standard of the attack, and super-soft tries from the Leicester No 8 Thomas Waldrom and the Harlequins centre George Lowe (playing on the wing), separated by a finish of considerable quality from the young Wasps wing Christian Wade, ensured the game was won by half-time. Even though the home side scored a second close-quarter try on 34 minutes through their most highly-regarded player, the Eastern Province hooker Hannes Franklin, there was no great prospect of England wasting an 11-point advantage after the break.
The entire red-rose party made the hour-long flight from Johannesburg to watch the first of two "dirt-tracker" meetings with Barbarians opposition – "When you're one squad, it's the right thing to do," said the assistant coach Simon Hardy – but the shadow of this weekend's must-win Test against the Springboks hung heavily over the tourists. David Strettle, the Saracens wing, was withdrawn from the line-up because of the continuing fitness problems affecting Ugo Monye of Harlequins, who had been a candidate for a return to international duty. Much to his surprise, Lowe found himself press-ganged into service in the No 14 shirt.
As a consequence of all this, the likely shape of Saturday's selection began to emerge. Toby Flood was considered hot favourite to reclaim the outside-half position, and with his Leicester clubmate Manu Tuilagi expected to move to inside centre to create room for Jonathan Joseph's first Test start, Owen Farrell seemed the most probable fall-guy.
If he does indeed end up carrying the can for the defeat in Durban, he will justifiably feel hard done by. When you kick your goals, make your tackles and throw a millimetre-perfect scoring pass into the bargain, is the odd game management error, committed by a 20-year-old in his second season of senior rugby, really a hanging offence?
If Lancaster has been fretting over his Test line-up for five days now, there were further issues to concern him yesterday. For all England's success in putting themselves out of Barbarian range in short order, they spent far too long on the wrong side of the referee, Jonathan Kaplan, and while James Haskell, back on red-rose duty, after sojourns in Japan and New Zealand, led the way by arguing his way into the sin-bin, he was far from alone in testing Kaplan's patience.
Of those who had a fullish run at things, the returning Danny Care looked full of vim and vigour at scrum-half and deserved his try at the last knockings. There were also striking contributions from Waldrom and George Robson, who led in traditional second-row style. Wade, meanwhile, had himself a ball in attack, doubling his try tally after an interception by Anthony Allen before completing a fleet-footed hat-trick with the last move of the match.
But some of England's defensive work, especially during a knockabout period in the final third of the game, left much to be desired and yielded galloping tries to Norman Nelson and Ntabeni Dukisa. Wade, hardly a wing built on Springbok lines, was a culprit, but there were plenty of others. There is urgent work to be done.
England XV: A Goode (Saracens); G Lowe (Harlequins), A Allen (Leicester), J Turner-Hall (Harlequins), C Wade (Wasps); C Hodgson (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); M Mullan (Worcester), J Gray (Harlequins), P Doran-Jones (Northampton), G Kitchener (Leicester), G Robson (Harlequins, capt), J Haskell (Highlanders), C Fearns (Bath), T Waldrom (Leicester). Replacements N Abendanon (Bath) for Goode, h-t; L Dickson (Northampton) for Lowe, 41; T Youngs (Leicester) for Gray, 47; J Gibson (London Irish) for Fearns, 47; R Harden (Gloucester) for Doran-Jones, 58; P Dowson (Northampton) for Waldrom, 66.
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