England’s strength in depth gives Eddie Jones glimpse of future

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The extent of England’s strength in depth was on full display on Sunday afternoon after an impressive win over a powerful Barbarians outfit. 12 months ago, Fijian wizards Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova in combination with Chris Ashton tore England to shreds.

This time around a young England team outclassed the infinitely more experienced Barbarians. There were a number of standout displays and the Harlequins trio, Marcus Smith, Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant were top of the list.

Marcus Smith ran the show

Marcus Smith was outstanding against the Barbarians, tallying 26 points, including a try as well 9/9 from the kicking tee. Eddie Jones would have walked away happy in the knowledge that Smith could be England’s starting fly-half in 2023. Smith is only going to get better and crucially he has stood up against some of the best sides in Europe this season. April’s European Challenge Cup semi-final against Clermont showed Smith that he could perform against the best. Against Clermont’s super heavyweights, Smith continually created space for his team.

On Sunday, he was charged with the responsibility of leading an inexperienced backline. England tore the Barbarians to pieces in the first half and Smith ran the show. Japan is probably too soon for Smith but expect the 20-year-old to break into Eddie Jones’ 2020 Six Nations squad.

All-action Alex Dombrandt

Alex Dombrandt must have pushed Marcus Smith close for the Man of the Match award on Sunday. Dombrandt had a breakout season for Harlequins this year having being plucked from the relative obscurity of university rugby. An uncanny knack to make the hard yards similar to Billy Vunipola has pushed Dombrandt into England’s plans. Having a wrecking ball backrower will appeal to Eddie Jones and it may be that Dombrandt is a bolter for the World Cup squad.

The Barbarians had plenty of power and experience in their pack led by Steven Luatua, John Afoa and the retiring James Horwill. Dombrandt was all power and aggression in the first half but also showed admirable support play to get on the end of a couple of tries. Jokingly ridiculed at the beginning of the season for having a less than desirable six-pack, Dombrandt is now the real deal.

Marchant to be England’s 2023 No.13

Joe Marchant was another massive bonus for England’s management team to mull over. Like Dombrandt and Smith, the 2019 World Cup is probably too soon for Marchant. It is highly likely that Marchant will get his chance in 2020. His pace, vision and workrate were all on show in the Twickenham sunshine.

There is a bit of Jonathan Joseph in his pomp about Marchant in that his footwork can buy him crucial space. Marchant’s dazzling footwork that saw him beat three defenders in setting up Simon Hammersley’s try was an emphatic statement of his ability to perform at the highest level.

Special mentions for Alex Mitchell and Ben Curry

England’s young team did remarkably well to gel as quickly as they did to beat the Barbarians. At times especially in the first half, it looked like the Barbarians were recovering from their traditional ‘meet-and-greet’ sessions. Loose passes and indecision were rife among the talent that the Barbarians had on display. Ben Curry was excellent throughout and took the honours over the illustrious Francois Louw. With brother Tom Curry having a brilliant Six Nations campaign, Ben could soon join him in the England squad.

Saints scrum-half Alex Mitchell did his prospects no harm at all in the first half. Energetic in defence and lethal with his darts in open play, Mitchell is one for the future. Both Ben Youngs and Danny Care would have admired the read that Mitchell took from a Barbarians lineout which led to Dombrandt’s first try.

Reality but many positives for England’s strength in depth

What Sunday showed is that England’s strength in depth after Japan is significant. With other men pressing for a call-up who weren’t available such as Don Armand and Alex Goode, the future is bright. The Barbarians had a wealth of world-class talent on show as well as experience to call upon. The way a young England team took their chances in the first forty minutes was hugely encouraging.

There was a reality to a match like this where the end of season celebrations led to a fast game. England do not play the loose style of play that the Barbarians are renowned for. That said, the positives far outweighed any defensive negatives from Sunday. England fourth/fifth choices have got their summer off to a great start. Now for the real fireworks.

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