England against the Barbarians at Twickenham is one of the most romantic fixtures on the rugby calendar, but Eddie Jones is nothing if not a pragmatist.
Anything but a convincing victory for the Red Rose at HQ will have the head coach tearing out what precious little hair he has left.
The Baa-Baas embody rugby’s old amateur spirit and are revered as the game’s great entertainers. So Jones has important business to attend to as he continues to plot England’s assault on the World Cup in Japan in 2019 and sentimentality will be in short supply this Sunday from the straight-talking Aussie.
England suffered their first defeat in 18 Tests under Jones against Ireland in March to deny the side a second successive Grand Slam.
An immediate return to winning ways is paramount, even if by their own admission the Baa-Baas are a hastily-assembled.
Jones has named an inexperienced squad
With so many leading lights absent on Lions duty or playing in the Premiership between Exeter and Wasps final at HQ the day before, the game represents a golden opportunity for a raft of new boys to impress the boss.
There is also the added incentive of England’s two-Test summer tour of Argentina.
Jones is set to confirm a 31-man party for the South American jaunt on Monday and, if the eight uncapped players named in Sunday’s starting XV are not yet pencilled in for a seat on the plane, they could yet be dusting off their passports if they can produce a storming 80 minutes at Twickenham.
The Baa-Baas, in contrast, are a squad bursting at the seams with proven international stars, boasting more than 1,000 Test appearances between them.
The perennial problem for the incumbent head coach, however, is melding disparate talents into a cohesive unit. With 13 different nationalities represented in the squad, this year is no different.
That coach for the Twickenham clash is Vern Cotter.
The Kiwi lost all three matches against England during his tenure as Scotland head coach but with the likes of France legend Thierry Dusautoir, skipper for Sunday, Wallaby winger Adam-Ashley Cooper, World Cup winning All Black Ben Franks and former Springbok Ruan Pienaar to call upon, the New Zealander is not short of world class firepower.
The head-to-head record between the two teams, all 15 of the previous fixtures having been played out at Twickenham, makes fascinating reading.
England do lead the count back but only by a surprisingly narrow margin with eight wins to the Baa-Baas’ seven and recent encounters have proved the famous tourists can be dangerous.
Their 2015 clash was a one-sided 73-12 victory to the Red Rose
But the year before the Barbarians registered a famous win at the home of rugby, beating their hosts 39-29 courtesy of two tries from All Black wing Hosea Gear.
It was not their only memorable triumph in the last decade. In 2011 the Baa-Baas staged a dramatic late fightback, scored a try through Scotland star Tim Visser and won a thriller 38-32 while in 2009 they were also victorious at HQ, scoring five tries to emerge on the right side of a 33-26 scoreline.
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