England 28 Barbarians 14

The Barbarians came up against an England outfit that belied the massive difference in experience between the teams to come out on top in front of more than 50,000 supporters at Twickenham.

The tens of thousands in the crowd would have headed to HQ hoping for a trademark May end-to-end shootout. This type of contest did threaten to break out on several occasions, with both sets of players showing plenty of intent to keep the ball alive, but there were too many periods of disjointed play and England’s greater structure and cohesion ultimately made the difference. 

The BaaBaas’ last London outing had seen them score five highlight reel tries at Wembley Stadium, and it took only four minutes for them to show the same ambition at the city’s other iconic national stadium.

Mike Brown’s chip to the corner had seemed picture-perfect, but Alex Goode had other ideas, jinking inside the England rushers to find Timoci Nagusa on his inside. A hundred metres to go to the opposition whitewash? No problem, as the winger spotted nothing but forwards in front of him and took off.

Kahn Fotuali’i was in support, as was Adam Ashley-Cooper, the Australian coming off his wing to help out on the other side of the pitch, and it was only a high tackle on the Wallaby that ended the attack.

Three minutes later Nagusa and Goode were combining again after an over-thrown England lineout, the winger bouncing two defenders before flicking an offload that was just too low for Goode to gather, the full back knocking on over the home whitewash.

Timoci Nagusa attacks against England


Offloads were not just the only order of the day. There was plenty of power, too, with Toulouse centre Yann David leaving one wake of white shirts after another behind his charges through midfield.

There was another sight of the England line in the 12th minute, Richard Hibbard and Thierry Dusautoir bamboozling the home pack for Fotuali’i to come through a gap. But this, too, was repelled, and with England’s defence holding firm further out the hosts came close to scoring a breakaway try, Nathan Earle denied when his attempted kick ahead came off the side of his boot and give the BaaBaas time to get back and nullify the danger.

As you’d expect for a national team, England had plenty of structure in both defence and attack. But they were not afraid to emulate the BaaBaas, too, flinging long, quick lineouts and trying to keep play alive with offloads out of the tackle. And they showed superb counter-attacking ability to open the scoring after 16 minutes.

Mike Brown caught a Fotuali’i box kick to feed Jonny May, and the winger headed off on an arcing run down the right towards his support. Sam James took the attack on, and his pass inside found an unmarked Earle to cross the whitewash.

With a flick of a switch England were oozing with confidence, Danny Care sparking an attack with a quickly tapped penalty that came a forward-pass away from a second try, Sam Underhill the man denied after Earle’s ball inside went astray.

The BaaBaas put themselves in a decent position early in the second quarter, Ian Madigan finding Ashley-Cooper on the far side with a sublime chip, with Frans Steyn running the supporting line up the left touchline. But a pass from Madigan a couple of phases later went forward to the charging Hibbard, and with England clearing from the scrum – despite Fotuali’i’s best efforts at the base – and then getting the ball back against the throw from a lineout it was the hosts who had the next chance of points.

It was no surprise when England went for the uprights just before the half-hour, nor was it a shock to hear the crowd’s displeasure at the decision. Ford missed, but had a successful shot a couple of minutes later after first Steffon Armitage came off his feet and then Robbie Fruean introduced himself to Brown off the ball.

Ford had another three points to end the half, but it was the Barbarians who opened the scoring after the break.

Ashley-Cooper’s ambition close to his own line in the opening salvos of the second half had looked a touch ill-advised as he got swamped by England shirts, but there was nothing wrong with his pace and power down the left touchline when Fruean and Goode combined to put him away.

Madigan’s conversion was a peach, but with Ford accurate once again five minutes later England were able to keep their side of the scoreboard ticking over, too.

Back came the Barbarians, and like Goode in the first half Jeremy Thrush was denied a score when TMO Peter Fitzgibbon ruled that Joe Tekori had lost the ball going into contact.

There was another setback when referee Andrew Brace lost patience with Mikheil Nariashvili, sending the big Georgian to the sidelines to consider his scrummaging technique for 10 minutes, and a second near-miss for England when Nagusa was just beaten to his own kick ahead over the home goal line.

The Fijian took out his frustrations on Ford with a massive hit to give his team the chance to clear, and had Ashley-Cooper been able to hold onto another pinpoint Madigan cross-field kick then the Barbarians would have had a try.

Another kick, this time from Fotuali’i to Nagusa, brought a lineout close to the home line after Facundo Isa had straight trucked it through the middle of the white defence. But while this had put England under pressure the better option in hindsight might have been going the other way to the unmarked Ashley-Cooper.

The two wingers were combining directly, too, and it was a shame that the rain had come when it did, because any danger that the turbo-charged twosome may have had was nullified as their footing gave way in an attempted change of direction.

Instead when the ball went loose and the Barbarians made the cardinal sin of not playing to the whistle England capitalised, Nick Isieskwe being put over for the try that put the result to bed.

There were late rewards for the effort, Tekori crashing over from close range, but it was England who had the final word, Danny Care adding glose to the scoreline with the final play of the game.


ENGLAND Brown; Earle, James, Lozowski, May; Ford, Care; Genge, Singleton, Collier, Ewels, Isiekwe, Robshaw, Underhill, Beaumont. Subs – McGuigan, Harrison, Ford-Robinson, Spencer, Curry, Wilson, Wigglesworth, Haley.

Scorers: Tries: Earle, Isiekwe, Care. Conversions: Ford 2. Penalties: Ford 3.

BARBARIANS Goode; Nagusa, David, Steyn, Ashley-Cooper; Madigan, Fotuali’i; Nariashvili, Hibbard, Johnston, Albacete, Thrush, Dusautoir, Armitage, Isa. Subs – Brits, King, Nel, Tekori, Galan, Pienaar, Fruean, Agulla.

Scorers: Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Tekori. Conversions: Madigan 2. 

Yellow card: Nariashvili 54.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)