England’s biggest ever defeat by the Barbarians left the squad “shocked” by their failure to adapt to the speed of the game, with head coach Eddie Jones admitting that the “crucial errors” late in the game cost the hosts any chance of an unlikely comeback win.
The Baa-Baas ran in nine tries to record a 63-45 victory over England, inflicting a fourth straight defeat on the red rose after this year’s Six Nations, and although Jones was at pains to stress his side were not the one that will head to South Africa next week for their three-Test tour due to the absence of the Saracens and Exeter Chiefs players, Barbarians head coach Pat Lam admitted that they were able to expose some pre-identified weaknesses in the side.
The loss is all the more painful to take given that the Barbarians trained just three times together – and spent the majority of the week on the famed Baa-Baas nights out – but Jones refused to panic given the 15 reinforcements that will arrive on Monday.
“It felt like we were playing one-day cricket; score for score,” Jones admitted. “In the first 20 minutes, we struggled to adjust to the speed of the game. We got a bit shocked by it. We adjusted well, got ourselves back into the game and played some good rugby. But then when we got fatigued in the last 20 minutes we made some crucial errors in execution and it ended up costing us the game.
“As an experience for some of the young players it was absolutely outstanding. I was just speaking to a number of them then and they just struggled to cope with the speed of the game.
“You’ve got to look at what the game is. We don’t have our top 15 players and we have another 22 players unavailable, so it was a test of our depth. We played against a very good, fast, powerful Barbarians team and at times we struggled to cope with that.”
Jones was keen to highlight Tom Curry for his individual performance, with the young Sale Sharks flanker England’s best performance by a country mile, but it was another Englishman who stole the show in the form of Chris Ashton as the exiled Toulon back scored three times in the opening 25 minutes to light up Twickenham in a throwback to his long-gone international career.
Ashton admitted after the match that he knows what he has to do to get back into the England frame, but that will not come until he decides to leave Toulon and head back to the Premiership to meet the Rugby Football Union’s selection policy.
“I don’t think there was a point to prove,” said Ashton. “I knew there were great players here and Pat [Lam] has done a great job with us all week in such a short space of time.
“It was great opportunity for me and I wanted to carry on doing what I’ve been doing all year. I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to do that. I’d like to have scored a couple more but I’ll take three!”
But for Lam, there was undoubted pride in the way his side implemented the attacking brand of rugby that has made the Baa-Baas so loved across the globe.
“I’m hugely proud and honoured. I said before that we’d celebrate the five days that we’ve had and the relationship building exercises that we’ve had right throughout the week,” Lam said.
“We’ll celebrate that this team will never, ever play again and that this was a one-off. We have lots of X-factor players and lot of players who can play as individuals, but in our beautiful game of rugby it’s nothing to do with individuals but about team work.”
Jones will at least be able to select the 10 Saracens and five Exeter players that featured in Saturday’s Premiership final, with the head coach adding that he has no fresh injury concerns from the weekend and will wait until Monday evening to make a call on Wasps No 8 Nathan Hughes, who is continuing his comeback from his Six Nations knee injury.
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