Preparing To Face The Baa-Baas

Posted on: 30 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Nick has been selected in the starting line-up for England to face the Barbarians.

It’s a huge honour to be picked in the England team to play the Barbarians this weekend.

After the initial joy of being selected in the full squad I wanted to force my way into the team for New Zealand and this gives me the perfect opportunity.

Although it’s a non-cap international, meaning it won’t count as a full England international, it’s as good as it gets for now.

The Barbarians are probably the most famous international team; everybody’s heard of them in rugby and what they’re rugby motto is – to entertain.

In the past the best rugby players in the world have lined up in their ranks and the squad they’ve picked to play Ireland and ourselves is testament to the ongoing romance rugby has with the Baa-Baas.

As the name suggests the club philosophy is based on attack with flowing running rugby and plenty of tries, particularly in contrast to our northern hemisphere style of play.

I watched their game against Ireland on Tuesday evening and although Ireland ran out eventual winners (39-14), it would have been the perfect warm-up for the game against us this weekend.

They looked good with the ball in hand, although a little rusty and they all seemed fully committed to the cause, putting their bodies on the line.

They have class all over the pitch; in the pack you have New Zealand’s Jerry Collins – a world class flanker yet he’s also considered one of the most ferocious tacklers in today’s game and Australia’s Justin Harrison alongside me in the second row who’s no stranger to handing out the odd big hit either.

Mark Regan won’t hold any prisoners and he’s captaining the side whilst Iain Balshaw will see it as a perfect opportunity to put his name back in the frame with regards to England.

From my point of view the game comes at a good time. I haven’t played a game of rugby since the Toulouse game over a month ago and it’s important I get a match under my belt before we head off to New Zealand.

The term “match-fit” is underestimated outside of training and matches. For the watching public and media, it’s not really mentioned – you’re either fit or you’re not.

But from our angle it’s vitally important. You can feel as fit as a marathon runner but if you feel your legs are going before the first-half is up then you’re in big trouble.

I’ve put some big sessions in during my time with the squad in Bath and also kept my fitness and strength up in the gym with some power sessions but now what my body needs is a match.

With Leicester and Wasps playing each other the day before the England game in the Guinness Premiership final and Bath playing in the Challenge Cup final last week, the players from those clubs weren’t included in selection so I’m mindful I’ve been picked for what is likely to be more of an experiment than a serious team run-out.

Although Martin Johnson was included in the selection process, Rob Andrew (England’s director of elite rugby), will be taking charge of the side for the Baa-Baas game.

It will probably give Martin a good chance to see us all play together and without the added pressure of being in the hot-seat for match-day.

Last weekend was the final of the Heineken Cup where Munster went where we at London Irish failed to go, by beating Toulouse in Cardiff.

It was a tight game but I think overall Munster deserved to win. I felt a little sympathy with the Toulouse players who seemed devastated at the final whistle.

We felt the same after they knocked us out at Twickenham in a game I felt we deserved to win.

Last week I think the Toulouse players were more upset with their own performance than the actual result. They allowed Munster to squeeze their game and they weren’t allowed to show the famous French flair we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the years.

On the other hand, Munster have done it the hard way this season. They came out winners in the “Group of Death” and even beat Gloucester away – no mean feat, so they fully deserve to be given the title of Europe’s best.

By Nick Kennedy (30th May).

Nick will be wearing the number five shirt for England in Sunday’s clash with the Barbarians at Twickenham. The game will be screened live on Sky Sports 1 from 2.30pm.

As well as being called up to the full England squad, Nick featured in the Guinness Premiership Dream Team of the season, selected by Sky Sports rugby union experts in recognition for his outstanding season with London Irish in the second row.


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