James Lawton: Barkley would do well to ignore Johnson

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The Independent Online

Most great, and potentially great, sportsmen tend not to always believe what they read in the papers, and the pattern is one that English rugby union's rising star Olly Barkley might do well to follow ­ particularly so in the case of the strange, Pollyanna warblings of the former captain Martin Johnson.

According to "Johnno", "Barkley had a fantastic game, kicked well and controlled the game to such an extent that Wales had to mark him tightly. The way Olly has been able to step up shows the power and the structure of the England team".

Barkley certainly put in an impressive performance on his first international start, but "the power and structure of the England team"? It's hard not to believe that Johnson was either following a party line, and insulting the intelligence of his readers, or that he had just mis-directed one of his own right-handers.

Olly may have acquitted himself extremely well but the only English control most of us saw was when Lawrence Dallaglio whipped up his forwards into a sustained attack in the last 20 minutes.

For sheer realism, Olly would have received more practical nourishment from another former England player's musings. Said Stuart Barnes, "Barkley, carrying the ball more than any player on the pitch due to the [team's] self-inflicted lack of options, came through the ordeal with honour. And frankly, it must be quite an ordeal playing fly-half with so few options and so many forwards blocking the wider spaces. Despite this win, Wales represented more regression. Barkley was a neat exception in this muddled win."

That was a hard-headed evaluation of the nerve and ability of a 22-year-old who triumphed, at the first time of asking, over unpromising and potentially devastating circumstances. An additional bonus was that it came from a man who brought a consistently thrilling panache to the challenge of playing at fly-half.

Perhaps it also helps that Barnes studied political science at Oxford University.