As the teams became increasingly diluted last week, the danger for the Rugby Football Union was that they had left themselves open to the charge of selling tickets under false pretences. Despite the misgivings, last night the charge was not proven.
"Just four weeks after Martin Johnson led his side to victory against the Wallabies in Sydney, fans will be able to switch on to another treat of top-class rugby with many of England's heroes in action at Twickenham," trumpeted the publicity machine. Although the game was live on the BBC, all tickets were snapped up last month within three hours of going on sale. Only 2,000 were subsequently returned and they were resold.
In the event, only five of England's World Cup winning side were in action, discounting the post-match lap of honour when the squad pitched up, most by helicopter from the Midlands, brandishing the (William) Webb Ellis Cup. The crowd? They lapped it up. But it was not William's first appearance here. He also shone at the Varsity Match.
If, this time, the RFU got their Twickers in a twist, few people seemed to mind. The mood was such that had Old Rottinghamians trotted out wearing the red rose, the rafters would still have been raised. In the end, England, with a makeshift squad, beat the New Zealand Barbarians, who were even more makeshift, by three goals, three tries and two penalties to two goals and a penalty. But the match was almost incidental, an aperitif to the huge celebrations that followed.
Before the start they played "Jerusalem", "Land of Hope and Glory", "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and, of course, the National Anthem. For the NZ Barbarians, there was nothing.
The last time the invitation side were here, in 1996, they beat England 34-19. The game had just turned professional and the Red Rose, not to mention the Cross of St George, was about to come into its own. No sooner had this match finished than a giant flag of St George covered the entire pitch. This was Last Night of the Proms and then some. On a freezing night five days before Christmas it was announced that the bars would stay open for two hours after the game. Who in their right minds would want to drink a cold pint of bitter on a bitter night? The England supporters, that's who, but only after they had seen their heroes parade the World Cup.
The party went on. They roared when Jason Leonard received a presentation to commemorate his 113th cap and roared again when Jonny Wilkinson, the player who kicked the match-winning drop goal in the final against Australia and Kyran Bracken received their 50th silver caps.
Wilkinson, who is injured, was never going to play a part in this match and nor did he need to. "We put out the right team,'' Clive Woodward, the England coach, said. "I didn't want people like Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio on the field. We were playing an invitation side and what it showed is that England have a lot of strength in depth. I've learnt from this, some guys have stepped up and it's a massive boost for the Six Nations' Championship.''
It is possible that some familiar faces will not be appearing at Twickenham again. Woodward, about to embark on a family skiing holiday in Switzerland, has time to dwell on how many of his champions will be available for the Six Nations in the new year. A few of the older players are tempted to bow out on the highest of notes - clutching a World Cup winner's medal.
Of the new faces last night, none was fresher than the 21-year-old tighthead prop Matt Stevens. A South African who is in this country to study economics and play rugby, Stevens has started only two senior matches for Bath. He had only been to Twickenham once, to watch England play Italy in last season's Six Nations. He did not win a cap for last night's performance - none were awarded - but it is only a matter of time.
Stevens, remarkably mobile for a prop, scored one of England's six tries and generally gave a good account of himself. So too did James Simpson-Daniel, who was unfortunate not to have been included in the World Cup squad. The Gloucester wing also got on the try sheet but the other wing, Ben Cohen, was named man of the match.
England were trailing 10-3 after 17 minutes, the aggressive Troy Flavell having crossed in the eighth minute. Then Paul Grayson put in a perfectly judged cross-kick to the right-hand corner where Cohen, with impeccable timing, gathered to beat Jorrie Muller and Diego Albanese. It was turning out to be a particularly good day, not just for England but Northampton. Richard Hill's team hit the front when Grayson exploited a break by Stuart Abbott and then Cohen, from a tap penalty, got his second try, eluding Sam Harding and Josh Blackie.
The Barbarians did not go down without a fight, particularly Flavell, who was responsible for Hill's departure on the hour. The England captain had already suffered a head wound before he took a blow from the New Zealand lock which broke his nose and gave his bandage the appearance of the cross of St George.
The Barbarians got a second try through Keith Lowen but the last word went to Mike Tindall, one of the few who did feature in the World Cup final. And then they played "We are the Champions" and all of Twickenham was bedecked in red and white.
England XV 42 NZ Barbarians 17
Tries: Cohen 2, Grayson, Stevens, Simpson-Daniel, Tindall; Tries: Flavell, Lowen
Cons: Grayson 3; Cons: Jackson 2
Pens: Grayson 2; Pen: Jackson
Half-time: 13-10 Attendance: 74,003
England XV: J Robinson (Sale); J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), O Smith (Leicester), S Abbott (Wasps), B Cohen (Northampton); P Grayson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Gloucester); T Woodman (Gloucester), A Titterrell (Sale), M Stevens (Bath), D Grewcock (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), M Corry (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps), R Hill (Saracens, capt). Replacements: M Tindall (Bath) for Smith, 55; P Sanderson (Harlequins) for Corry, 55; A Sheridan (Sale) for Woodman, 55; H Vyvyan (Newcastle) for Hill, 62; K Bracken (Saracens) for Gomarsall, 64; B Gollings (Newcastle) for Abbott, 79.
New Zealand Barbarians: J Muller (Cats); R Gear (North Harbour), K Lowen (Waikato), D Gibson (Leicester), D Albanese (Leeds); G Jackson (Bay of Plenty), D Lee (Otago); T Woodcock (North Harbour), A Hore (Taranaki), D Manu (Waikato), T Flavell (North Harbour), S Maling (Otago), T Randell (Saracens, capt), X Rush (Auckland), J Blackie (Otago). Replacements: S Harding (Otago) for Rush, 39; A Tiatia (Harlequins) for Hore, 49; N Maxwell (Canterbury) for Maling, 60; B Willis (Harlequins) for Lee, 62; E Taione (Newcastle) for Gear, 72.
Referee: J Jutge (France).Reuse content