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Little to excite Johnson


Martin Johnson

Martin Johnson

Martin Johnson

England manager Martin Johnson will have gained little positive World Cup information from watching a shadow team crash to a 38-32 defeat to the Barbarians.

On Saturday, 19-year-old fly-half Owen Farrell had indicated his long-term England credentials with a mature performance as he guided Saracens to the Aviva Premiership title. On Sunday, Johnson was back in the Twickenham stands to cast his eye over a handful of players looking to boost their chances of making England's World Cup training squad.

But Johnson was left frowning in his seat as the England XV blew a 17-point lead and, having restored a narrow one-point advantage, concede a fifth try with the last play of the game. However, Saxons coach Stuart Lancaster, who managed the squad, said: "I was proud of our performance in terms of the inexperience of our side in relation to theirs."

James Simpson-Daniel scored a blistering try but did not excel defensively, Charlie Hodgson had a mixed afternoon and it was tough for prop Paul Doran-Jones.

Lancaster added: "We put ourselves in a position at 32-31 where we could have won it. I guess at the end their experience and quality told. As a lead into the Churchill Cup and for players to get the experience of playing at Twickenham and benchmark themselves against World Cup players, it is valuable."

On the positive side, captain Luke Narraway had a hand in the tries scored by Henry Trinder and Simpson-Daniel and will be pressing for a place in England's World Cup training squad. But such is the competition for back row places, it is hard to see Narraway forcing himself into the final 30-man World Cup squad.

He said: "I tried to play to the best of my ability. If it is enough to make the World Cup training squad I'll be happy."

Matt Banahan enjoyed a confident trial run at inside centre, his different third position in an England jersey this season, and he seems certain to travel to New Zealand as a utility back.

The England Saxons squad for the Churchill Cup will be named on Tuesday and there will be changes, with players like Hodgson and Banahan given time off before the World Cup camp begins.

Saracens prop Matt Stevens is in line to make his return to an England squad for the first time since returning from a cocaine ban. Jordan Crane and Andy Saull will be checked over by team medics after sustaining injuries in the Aviva Premiership final.