Mettle detector for Barkley

England's youngsters need to heed lessons of defeat, says Hugh Godwin
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The Independent Online

When Jeremy Paul dived over the goal-line for Australia's fourth try, index finger jabbing towards the crowd in triumphant fashion, Olly Barkley took a long, hard look at him. The impression was of a picture being burned into the brain of one of the standard-bearers of England's next generation.

If Barkley banks that memory and comes back stronger for it, all well and good. If he and his fellow sufferers on this short and painful trip sweep the lessons under the shagpile carpet of their five-star hotels, there could be more of the same to come. It is up to them.

The new breed made up roughly a third of yesterday's match squad of 22, plus a few more whose tour effectively came to an end in New Zealand. These are the fellows who do not have a World Cup winners' medal to their name, or indeed an MBE behind it. They have sampled Sir Clive Woodward's luxury lifestyle - the gourmet food and first-class flights - and now, stretching out in their extendable seats on the way home, they have to ask themselves if they deserve to sample it again.

That tiny mirror in the aeroplane loo might be getting anxious glances from some; to others it will reflect a steady gaze born of inner confidence. It is up to Woodward to decide who's who, at a watershed moment when the head coach himself must feel in need of a psychological panel-beater.

Francis Bacon observed of the right time to marry: "A young man not yet, an elder man not at all," and the question of when to blood players at the top level of the international game can be every bit as vexing. Throw in a tiro before he is ready and you risk ruining him for good.

Two backs from Wasps, Tom Voyce and Fraser Waters, proved they could handle the difference between summering in Canada at the second-tier Churchill Cup, and fully-fledged Tests in the down-under midwinter. Andy Titterrell, the pocket-sized hooker from Sale, will value the spell he had as a replacement in Auckland. By contrast, his club-mate Chris Jones, the sunflower-bright back-rower, wilted terribly at the hands of the All Blacks. He and the versatile back James Simpson-Daniel were surplus to requirements for yesterday's final match in Brisbane, and need to put a lot of thought into what they have to do defensively to secure the starting place their footballing skills deserve.

Tim Payne began the tour as a hurriedly typed sheet of A4 thrust into England's glossy media brochure; the Wasps prop was a late call-up but not necessarily a late developer in his position at the age of 25. Payne played for Bristol while studying agriculture at university, then went on loan to Cardiff, before budding in May in the limelight of his club's Premiership and Heineken Cup wins.

Payne's window of opportunity opened a little wider with a satisfactory 60 minutes' work opposite Australia's Al Baxter, albeit that the latter's scrummaging rates as highly among England's coaches as a CD of Rolf Harris's greatest hits.

Yet another Wasp, Stuart Abbott, was injured in Auckland a week ago, and his simple virtues at inside-centre were missed. Woodward has never been a stranger to strange decisions, but picking Mike Catt ahead of Barkley was one of the more outlandish. Catt has surely exhausted his nine lives, and his last recollection of Suncorp Stadium should have been his second half contribution to the World Cup quarter-final win over Wales. This time, Catt played only the first half before being replaced by Barkley, whose growing authority complemented Charlie Hodgson's attacking instincts. Of course, there is another young fly-half for Woodward to turn to, among the ranks of the crocks and the rested. Jonny Wilkinson, in common with Jason Robinson, was always going to be conspicuous by his absence.

As for Australia, they keep turning up fresh talent. They may go to South Africa to find it, in the case of Clyde Rathbone, but find it they do. The majority of England's Premiership clubs are seeking success by signing anyone but Englishmen. Another problem for Woodward to ponder, as if he needed one.

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