England will be on a downer when they head Down Under as Eddie Jones’s side slumped to a horror defeat at Twickenham despite the Barbarians playing half the game with 14 men after Will Skelton’s red card.
This was a third successive loss for the national team, who were beaten by Ireland and France in the closing stages of a grim Six Nations campaign.
While the latest setback was not in a Test match, it means England have not been able to establish momentum and a mood of positivity before they fly to Australia for a three-Test series against the Wallabies. Far from it. Instead, their pride will be wounded by the scale of this rout.
England were punished by the superb Barbarians, who earned a handsome win at Twickenham
Joe Cokanasiga picked up the hosts’ only try of the first half, before they fell further behind
It had the look of a dangerous fixture and so it proved. Conceding eight tries was not what Jones would have hoped for, as the Barbarians achieved their aim of honouring the memory of Phil Bennett.
The Welsh wizard would have approved of the artistry from Fabien Galthie’s side as they ran amok. By the end, they were twisting the knife with theatrical tries, and conversions by former England lock George Kruis – one with a back-heel.
The fact that they were able to do so with 14 men will alarm Jones. Skelton’s dismissal should have given England a way back into this game. The Australia lock’s wild, high hit on Patrick Schickerling saw him become the first Barbarians player ever to be sent off. It was an unwelcome landmark.
But without him, the invitational side still put England to the sword. Jones brought Danny Care on for a first appearance since 2018, but that was about the only bright moment for the hosts, who lost Alex Dombrandt to a knee injury before the game. Few fringe tour contenders made a case for inclusion in the squad Jones will name in the morning. England are in trouble before that daunting trip has even begun.
The Barbarians missed an early chance to go ahead when Antoine Hastoy’s first penalty shot was off target and England were the ones who hit their stride with some adventurous attacking.
A cross-kick by Marcus Smith under pressure nearly put Joe Marchant clear on the left, then the home side should have had a try in the 14th minute.
It was a glaring miss. Joe Cokanasiga burst clear on the right with an eye-catching, one-handed carry and suddenly England had a four-on-one opening. Somehow, they squandered it as Cokanasiga passed inside, rather than to Tommy Freeman with a clear run to the line outside him. Damien Penaud was able to chase back, bring down Harry Randall and win the ball back brilliantly.
Will Skelton (second right) was shown a red card during the clash after a nasty shoulder blow
Damian Penaud powered over the try-line before half-time to inflict more misery on England
A Smith penalty put Jones’s side 3-0 up soon after, but the Barbarians began to gain the upper hand. Virimi Vakatawa came close to scoring in the left corner, then a TMO review revealed that Jonny May had knocked-on to deny Penaud a try seconds earlier on the far side. The up-shot was a penalty try for the visitors and a yellow card for May, which was a fair ruling.
It went from bad to worse for England when they conceded a second try in the 24th minute. They were in the Barbarians half, seeking to launch another raid, but Randall had a pass intercepted by Charles Ollivon and was unable to haul down the opposition captain after chasing back to try to make amends for the error. Hastoy’s conversion made it 14-3 to the invitational team.
Smith was off target with his next penalty and Jones took drastic action to try to shore up England’s creaking scrum as he hauled off tighthead Will Collier before half an hour had passed – sending on Namibia-born Schickerling in his place. The hosts rallied and Smith’s next shot was successful to reduce the deficit to eight points.
Four minutes before the break, the Harlequins fly-half set the wheels in motion for a fine try, with a late pass to release Freeman on the right. The full-back passed out for Cokanasiga to surge towards the Barbarians line and despite a valiant cover tackle by Vakatawa, he was able to stretch and score.
George Kruis memorably kicked a conversion in his final game for the Barbarians on Sunday
Jonny May reduced the gap between the two teams after stepping inside well and going over
Jones’ side missed the chance to impress their head coach before their Test tour of Australia
Before the wide conversion by England’s No 10, replays showed that Skelton’s shoulder had slammed into the head of Schickerling after the prop knocked on. The giant Wallaby was dismissed and booed off.
If that offence suggested a momentum shift was imminent, it didn’t immediately pan out that way. Instead, as England tried to play out of their 22 in the 38th minute, Mark Atkinson’s lofted pass was easily intercepted by Penaud, who touched down on the right. His strike sent the Barbarians into half-time 19-11 up, but facing the prospect of being a man down for the next 40 minutes.
They made light of the situation shortly after the break when Yoan Tanga blasted through the home defence in midfield, on into the 22 and up to within a metre or two of the posts. He was stopped, but Barbarians scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud was able to dart round the ruck and score. His try was converted with ease by George Kruis – to ensure a scoring farewell for the former England lock before his retirement.
England were reeling, but then Jones sent on Care and a raft of other replacements and suddenly his team reignited. A sweeping, long-range attack wonderfully conducted by Care and Quins side-kick Smith – full of strong carries, good running lines and quick ball – ended with Smith’s looping pass allowing May to step inside and finish impressively, as he has done so many times over the years.
Penaud refused to be up-staged for long though. The Barbarians’ 14 men came again and a long pass reached their Clermont Auvergne wing on the right. Freeman tried to stop him but Penaud was able to ground the ball in the corner and the TMO ruled that the try could stand. It put the visitors more than two scores ahead once more.
Penaud dotted the ball down for his second try, which was allowed to stand after a TMO review
Marcus Smith somewhat made up for his erratic kicking after cantering over in plenty of space
Suitably wounded, England roared back, searching for a reply and they soon delivered one. Tom Curry set the wheels in motion with a storming carry and May was stopped on the left after failing to release Cokanasiga for a simple run-in.
But Jack Nowell went close and Curry rumbled on again, then Jonny Hill’s excellent pass allowed Smith to skip past a flailing defender and dive over. For the third time, he couldn’t add the extras, so the gap remained in double figures.
Any English optimism was soon crudely dashed as the Barbarians buried them. Nolann Le Garrec chipped over the home defence for Louis Carbonel to score, then the Racing 92 scrum-half latched on to Sekou Macalou’s break to kick inside for Max Spring to cross under the posts.
Hastoy added the last try after a somersault by Davit Niniashvili in the build-up. Kruis took conversions, went off and was thrown in the air by his team-mates.
It was all good fun and entertaining for the crowd and watching viewers, but it won’t have been for England and Jones. It was a damaging ordeal.
But it was the Barbarians who enjoyed the last laugh, and they celebrated wildly at full-time