Australian Barbarians 28-28 England, Perth, June 8
England fight back to snatch draw
June 8, 2010
Matt Banahan scored a late try to give England a short-lived lead
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An unimpressive England escaped with a 28-28 draw from their opening tour match against the Australian Barbarians after staging a late comeback.
Teenage fullback James O'Connor raced in for a hat-trick of tries and scored all the points as Australia's second string opened a 25-13 lead. England lost their way after a promising start and had O'Connor not been replaced early - having done everything possible to win the Wallaby No.15 jersey for Saturday's Test - then the outcome could have been very different.
Dan Ward-Smith and Matt Banahan followed up Lee Mears' first-half try and 13 points from Olly Barkley edged England back into the lead with six minutes remaining. Even then, England appeared to do everything possible to throw away the victory and their rugby towards the end drew hoots of derision from the 10,000-strong Perth crowd.
Berrick Barnes drew the scores level with a penalty immediately after Banahan's try and the fly-half could have clinched victory for the Barbarians had his long-range effort with the last kick of the game not dropped wide. While O'Connor played his way into contention for the first Test at Subiaco Oval, there was little for England manager Martin Johnson to smile about.
The England manager had told his players that the fight for World Cup places started in Perth today but he received very little response. Uncapped duo Ward-Smith and Hendre Fourie both produced impressive senior debuts and wing Banahan had his moments but England were muddled and disjointed in attack.
Once again, too many forwards cluttered up the back line and that stunted the momentum that Charlie Hodgson and Barkley had given England in the opening 15 minutes. Barkley took on the kicking duties and he pushed England into a 6-0 lead on the back of some solid defence, which earned five early turnovers, and lively counter-attacking.
The Barbarians began to tick and England were saved when Nick Cummins, on the overlap, dropped a simple pass from O'Connor - but it was a warning sign. Fourie produced a brilliant try-saving tackle after another jinking run from Barnes but it was finger in the dam stuff and eventually the Barbarians breached England's whitewash.
After a powerful run from hooker Hiua Edmunds, the ball was spread right and O'Connor managed to hold off Barkley and Ugo Monye to score. England's attack was stuttering. When Hodgson fired a brave, flat pass out wide it was the kind of opportunity that Delon Armitage would have relished - only it was loose-head David Flatman who was there to rumble forward.
The Barbarians continued to cause trouble on the outside before O'Connor spotted a mismatch in England's defensive line and sliced past Flatman and Mears to score his second try. Barkley missed a simple penalty but England soon worked a reply, with Mears burrowing over from short-range after some good build-up work.
England had failed to get their lineout drive moving but Mathew Tait's slippery run broke the Barbarians line and Mears drove over from short-range. Armitage had spoken before the game of his desperation to rediscover the attacking zest which had made him such a dangerous proposition during his first international season.
But a dreadful decision to run across field and then pass to Monye inside his own 22 just invited more pressure from the Barbarians and O'Connor extended their lead with a second penalty just before the interval.
England sent on Joe Worsley at half-time in place of Fourie, who appeared to suffer a knee injury. It took Australia three minutes to resume normal service. Josh Valentine attacked left where the Barbarians had a two-man overlap and the scrum-half dabbed a delightful kick in behind Banahan for O'Connor to score. The Western Force 19-year-old, playing on his home ground, landed the touchline conversion and was then replaced - presumably with Saturday's first Test in mind.
Barkley slotted a second penalty as England began to forge a comeback. The England pack produced a series of powerful scrums five metres from the Barbarians' line. Referee Stuart Dickinson yellow-carded the tight-head prop Laurie Weeks and although he did not award England a penalty try, Ward-Smith was able to charge over from close-range.
Shane Geraghty was sent on to bring some spark back to England's attacking game and his bold pass over the top then sent Geoff Parling away on a charging run. Geraghty then spread the ball wide right and Dominick Waldouck sent Banahan over in the corner.
England conceded a penalty immediately from the restart as Barnes drew the scores level and then continued to implode in some farcical scenes. Barnes was given a chance to win the game with the last kick of the match but his long-range effort dropped wide - much to England's relief.