Barbarians: Five takeaways from Twickenham as ‘toothless’ England crushed in fitting tribute to Phil Bennett

Date published: June 19 2022 - James While

Following a 52-21 victory for the Barbarians over England, here’s our five takeaways from the match at Twickenham on Sunday.

The top line

As a spectacle for English Rugby, this was more Vision Express than it was Tom Ford.

Make no mistake about it, against a scratch Barbarians team, even given their existing relationships in the various French shirts, England’s performance was toothless, sluggish and lamentable. From scrummage to lineout, from breakdown to carry, the magnificent Barbarians outplayed and outclassed England in every aspect.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise – the wake-up call Eddie Jones needed to weed out some of the mediocrity that has permeated this version of England since 2020 – and there’s some serious question marks over a number of both senior and emerging players on the eve of a selection meeting for the Australian tour.

For the Barbarians, it was a performance of Test match steel – with standout showings from Damian Penaud, Levani Botia and Antoine Hastoy. But make no mistake, this performance had the hallmarks of three giants of the French leadership – Fabien Galthie, Shaun Edwards and the peerless French and Barbarians skipper Charles Ollivon, a man that creates team spirit and tough energy in every team he plays in.

Phil Bennett would have been proud of them.

The chaff

It’s been a long time coming but the belting the Barbarians handed out might just have changed a few selection perspectives for the worse. England’s back-row, other than Tom Curry, were absolutely marmalized by Ollivon, Dylan Cretin, Yoan Tonga and Pierre Bougarit. There can be no more dalliance with the abject mediocrity of Sam Underhill and Callum Chick when players like Jack Willis and Alfie Barbeary are around.

Harry Randall’s inability to give his side go-forward via kick or break is too big a weakness to ignore, and at scrum time there will be huge concern over Bevan Rodd’s ability to bind and stay up on the hit.

Things might have moved forward a little for others – Jonny Hill showed glimpses of his best, both Danny Care and Willis added a lot of momentum when they came on, and both wings had moments to be very proud of, supported well by Tommy Freeman who continued his stellar season with an assured display at full-back.

The biggest concern for England was the lack of any form of obvious game-plan. Other than Marcus Smith (whose best moments came when he went totally off-script), their inability to exit, pressure the air or to kick for grass was noticeable and there was a distinct lack of the accurate game plan that Jones is so noted for.

Barbarian joy

Galthie managed to stay on script during the post-match interviews, using words such as fabulous, spirit of the Barbarians, joyous and so on.

He pointed out with great pains that the selection was one of more than one nation, and that the week was spent having both fun and serious moments. However, underneath this thin veneer of modesty, there was absolutely no doubt he saw this as effectively an England v France Test match, with the side show of testing a few of his fringes players such as Cretin, Max Spring, Hastoy and others. There was real importance placed upon a number of notable international players winning at the home of English rugby for the very first time and above all, there was immense pride at how both the Barbarians and the spectators had responded to the spirit of the game.

In a world of passive/aggressive behaviour, the post-match was a perfect example – the playing down of the importance, the focus placed on the spirit of rugby, but beneath those camera eyes there was absolutely no doubt that this meant a lot more to Galthie and Edwards than they were prepared to let on.

Spirit of Benny

The match started with the Barbarians forming their players into a number 10 as the crowd rose and applauded one of their greatest players, the phenomenal Phil Bennett.

For many, he started one the greatest of Baa-Baas tries – one replayed time and time again in the 49 years since its execution and the match today would have been bleak without at least one comparison to the greatest try of all time.

Enter Sekou Macalou, Nolann Le Garrec and Spring. In the 73rd minute, Macalou set off from his own line, and a jink later, a pass to Le Garrec, who kicked in field to find a flying support line from the brilliant Spring, who flew under the posts for a try.

However, Bennett may have mastered all of the arts of 10, but never in his rugby life has he seen a lock forward back heel a conversion over – which is exactly what the retiring George Kruis did to seal the goal.

Bennett may have left us, but his spirit lives on.

The plane trip

With England set to name their touring side for Australia on Monday, it seems a dead set certainty that Care will now make the plane alongside Willis judging by their impact on Sunday. However, a subpar performance at scrum-time and at the breakdown may just count against fringe players like Rodd and Underhill, and both of those players will have an anxious 24 hours as availabilities and injuries are assessed.

At the back, there’s no doubt that Tommy Freeman and Joe Cokanasiga did enough for selection, with Jonny May thundering back over the Twickenham wings he knows so well.

But in the centres, the question marks remain – Mark Atkinson tried his hardest but his pass that Ollivon intercepted to go the length started the rot that never stopped, and for once, Joe Marchant struggled to find the work that normally defines his play.

It’s a done deal for some, all over red rover for others and a lot of very established players can consider themselves little more than 50/50 bets after a performance that enhanced very few of their reputations.

READ MORE: Barbarians: George Kruis kicks three conversions as 14-man invitational side thump disappointing England