The uncapped test match with so much history, the Barbarians tests can showcase some truly remarkable talent and give their players the opportunity to play and socialise with each other at the end of a long nine-month season and play alongside those they have played against. The Barbarians gives you a rugby career opportunity that you would never turn down, playing with a group of ‘friends’ against the best in the country.
The focus of Pat Lam’s side is fostering a team spirit from a group of players who have been selected from 3 leagues and 11 nations but Eddie Jones has adopted more of an experiment ahead of Sunday’s match.
The outcome of this test won’t matter too much to England, but the way that they play and control the game will give us some indication to the style Jones might adapt in South Africa.
The squad he selected earlier in the week was slightly surprising and lots was said around Danny Cipriani being called for back three cover, but now the team has been released for Sunday, it is even more puzzling.
The forwards selection isn’t too shocking, but quite inexperienced and only shares 183 caps between them.
The front three includes Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler and uncapped Jack Singleton – all who have been on form for their clubs over the last months.
No Maco Vunipola however, Jones cannot call upon the Saracen or any Exeter players until after the Premiership final.
Elliot Stooke has stepped up for Bath this season and has proved himself worthy of the starting shirt however, the uncapped player will be shadowed by Joe Launchbury who is back to being a starting second row player under Jones.
The back row has 65 caps between them with 64 of them on Chris Robshaw’s shirt as he plays blindside flanker on Sunday and co-captains the side. The other flanker is 20-year-old Tom Curry who has a single cap to his name. Curry who has now had 2 seasons playing professional rugby for sale has guided his side all season and worked exceptionally hard for the starting club shirt.
Zach Mercer completes the back three and after showing his international ability when playing for England U20 and where captained the side during theirGrand-slam Six Nations tournament in 2017 and now gets a chance to perform on the big stage.
He has featured regularly for Bath this season either from the bench or starting in the absence of Taulupe Faletau. Mercer is a player that should go to the World Cup next year and has the potential to be the holder of the No8 shirt once Billy Vunipola steps down.
The selection of the backs on the other hand raise a few more questions. If Jones wants to let the less experienced players to prove they are worthy of a shirt, then why play some of your most experienced players.
The half-back partnership of Ben Youngs and George Ford has 119 caps between them and we know that the partnership works well so why not rest two crucial players and give Wasps scrum-half, Dan Robson a chance to start and move Youngs to the bench.
It’s no secret that this season George Ford hasn’t played as well as we had hoped for both club and country. Personally, I would either rest him, with the vision of him featuring during the summer tour or play him from the bench on Sunday and give Danny Cipriani a chance to make his way back into the squad.
Jones earlier this week told the media that at the moment Cipriani has the possibility to play in three positions on Sunday. Fly-half, centre and full-back and Jones will ‘decide on the day’ as to who he will replace.
Cipriani hasn’t played full-back for ten years and it seems a rather complicated decision to try him there this late on in his career. He has been Wasps’ playmaker this season and as a 10 plays spectacular rugby with the opposition never knowing what he is going to do next; he is always involved in the action and thrives off of it – so why place him at full-back?
Another shocking player positioning this week is Mike Brown. Brown has won 67 international caps as full-back for England and this weekend will start on the wing. Jones has admitted to this being an option he had hoped to trail for a while but it seems rather baffling as to why now.
Wasps superstar Elliot Daly will replace Brown at full-back and this decision I can understand. We already know that Daly can play on the wing or at centre and is exceptional under the high ball.
If he excels on during the match, then this could be an option for Jones ahead of the World Cup and if Brown drops in form or gets injured.
The match sees a very young and inexperienced squad and offers little experience from the bench if England find themselves struggling towards the hour mark. The Barbarians offer some competition for this side but if Jones really wants to see how young players work within his squad he will need to test them in South Africa. The World Cup is now just over a year away and the time for partnership ideas and trials is becoming minimal