Barritt prepares to put his body on the line again
It is, to misquote AC/DC, a long way to the top if you want to ruck and maul. Brad Barritt’s journey from Durban to the England team has been more protracted than most but this Six Nations has finally brought him widespread acclaim. When England confirm their side to face France, the most telling selection will not be the return of Manu Tuilagi but the retention of Barritt over the unfortunate Billy Twelvetrees.
For years under the Martin Johnson regime Barritt could not even make the squad, let alone the starting XV. Now he is a pivotal figure, the defensive organiser who makes others look good and the unselfish hub of a midfield good enough to see off New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland in their past three outings.
Old “Shovel Face”, as his team-mates unkindly call him, has featured in 13 of Stuart Lancaster’s 14 Tests in charge and only missed the other through injury. Given the heavy-metal nature of his day job, it is some record.
Twelvetrees may be the son of a tree surgeon but Barritt is the chopper par excellence, just the man to bring France’s modern-day Obelixs crashing down to earth. While Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana are not the slightest pair of centres around, the 26-year-old from Saracens is unbothered how big or small they are.
“Size is not everything in rugby in terms of running,” he says softly. “If we get our line-speed right and apply pressure, the biggest guys can fall just as hard.”
It is the top two inches of Barritt’s brain, however, that England value most. He never panics, is consistently good at organising sufficient numbers either side of the rucks and also happens to be the politest man in the squad. Add that to Barritt’s defensive appetite – he has made more tackles for England than all their other centres combined since Lancaster took the job – and you begin to appreciate his contribution.
Longer term there will undoubtedly be challengers but Barritt’s South African upbringing and Anglo-Zimbabwean heritage have forged a tougher nut than is generally recognised. This is the man who lacerated an eyeball playing for England in Durban last June, posted a picture of the damage on Twitter on the Monday morning and was back for the third Test in Port Elizabeth.
Nor is he the type to assume England simply have to turn up to beat France on Saturday. “We are confident of what we’ve done but we’ll need to improve because we expect a resurgent French team to pose a big threat,” he says.
Lancaster, accordingly, will name a team further stiffened by the recall of Tuilagi, the hooker Dylan Hartley in place of Tom Youngs and Courtney Lawes at blindside for James Haskell. Twelvetrees can count himself hugely unlucky but if Tuilagi can get England over the gainline early on, it will test France’s suspect fitness later in the game.
Parisse banned Misses rest of series
Italy captain Sergio Parisse will miss the rest of this season’s Six Nations after being banned for insulting a referee. The Stade Francais number eight landed a 40-day ban from French disciplinary chiefs yesterday – 10 days of which were suspended – following his sending off in Stade’s game against Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. Ligue Nationale de Rugby announced on their website that Parisse is sidelined until March 18th.