England labour to Barbarians win


England 17-14 Barbarians: England produced an abysmal display at a muted Twickenham in their final game before tackling New Zealand.

Although England will be considerably reinforced for Test matches in Auckland and Christchurch later this month, there could still be no excuse for a performance littered with errors throughout the contest.

Centre Mathew Tait was the shining light, scoring England's clinching second try courtesy of a devastating sidestep.

But England were sucked into a mistake-riddled, physical encounter, highlighted by injuries to backs Charlie Hodgson and Toby Flood.

Both players left the field nursing facial wounds, and England lacked continuity as a result, leaving a 55,000 crowd deeply frustrated.

New England manager Martin Johnson would have winced at poor execution, erratic intensity and a general malaise caused by both sides' attacking deficiencies.

It should have been an end-of-season extravaganza, yet England will head for Heathrow tomorrow having raised far more questions than they provided answers.

Skipper Nick Easter and Tait scored tries, with Flood adding a penalty, while the Newcastle centre and Harlequins full-back Mike Brown each landed a conversion.

Man-of-the-match Seilala Mapusua and wing Gareth Thomas scored tries for the Barbarians - Andy Gomarsall and Glen Jackson kicked conversions - but there was
precious little to enthuse red rose supporters.

England fielded 12 of the squad that will head to New Zealand tomorrow night, and they were quickly into their stride after Gomarsall missed an early Barbarians penalty.

Hodgson's delicious long pass freed Tait deep inside his own half, and the Sale Sharks-bound centre sprinted 50 metres before last-ditch Barbarians defence hauled him down.

But the invitation side then infringed, allowing Flood a straightforward penalty chance that he duly accepted.

England extended their lead eight minutes later, smashing down Barbarians' resistance with a close-range try for Easter that Flood converted.

But England's early promise quickly evaporated as they found themselves dragged into an attritional encounter against the likes of Baa-baas bruisers Justin Harrison and England World Cup hooker Mark Regan.

The Barbarians were content to put an emphasis on defence - a fact highlighted by London Irish centre Mapusua's punishing tackling - and England could make little headway.

Referee George Clancy sin-binned Barbarians flanker Maama Molitika for killing England possession nine minutes before the break, while England lost bloodied fly-half Hodgson.

Hodgson was on the receiving end of a clash of heads with Barbarians flanker Jerry Collins, and he did not reappear for the second period, with Flood moving to number 10 and Peter Richards partnering Tait in midfield.

England made a double half-time substitution, replacing scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth with Danny Care, while New Zealand-born hooker Dylan Hartley took over from David Paice.

But the Baa-baas claimed a deserved try when Mapusua intercepted lock Chris Jones' intended pass to Flood and galloped 40 metres to the line, complete with celebratory dive.

Gomarsall converted, cutting the gap to 10-7, and England tour manager Rob Andrew's perplexed expression from his seat in the stand said it all.

A bloodied Flood then departed following a tackle by Barbarians number eight Pedrie Wannenburg, and even when Thomas became the second Baa-baas player to be yellow-carded, England struggled to prosper.

Richards went to number 10 with Flood off, which underlined England's sense of disarray, and it took a weaving Tait touchdown to lift red rose spirits.

Brown converted, securing an England victory that will rank among their hollowest in recent memory, but the Barbarians finished strongly through a converted Thomas try.

Tries: Nick Easter, Mathew Tait;
Conversions: Toby Flood, Mike Brown;
Penalty: Flood.
Tries: Seilala Mapusua, Gareth Thomas;
Conversions: Andy Gomarsall, Glen Jackson
Attendance: 55,237
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)