Freddie Burns silenced his doubters with a superb display against New Zealand, says Stuart Barnes.
The fly-half kicked four penalties as England succumbed to an agonising last-gasp 20-15 to the All Blacks at Eden Park.
Stuart Lancaster’s weakened side surpassed all expectations, however, as they ran the reigning world champions all the way to the finish, before Conrad Smith’s late try took victory.
Barnes questioned the selection of Leicester-bound Burns after an indifferent season at Gloucester, but the Sky Sports pundit was full of praise for the 24-year-old’s performance.
“The amazing thing about Freddie is we all know he’s got the talent,” he said.
"There was a game at Leicester about 18 months ago when he really controlled the game. Since then, though, people got confused – Freddie Burns was a player who could make a break, he could run, he could kick, but he couldn’t bring it all together.
“But in that first half in particular, the quality of his kicks into the corner, his up-and-unders, and the way he just brought players into the ball was really good. He looked like a fly-half who was in control.
“Outside him, what a selection Kyle Eastmond was to come on this tour. Once or twice he went a little high, but his footwork and his threat in tandem with [Manu] Tuilagi – could be a work-in-progress or something for the immediate future.”
The tour moves to Dunedin for the second Test on June 14, when Lancaster will have a full squad at his disposal after missing several key players at Eden Park thanks to the Premiership final.
Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes and Luther Burrell are all likely to make a comeback as England look to level the series.
Despite the heartbreak of defeat, the manner of England’s performance has given Steve Hansen’s men food for thought ahead of their next meeting, and Barnes believes the tourists have shown they are ready to mix it with the best in the world.
“From an objective position an Englishman would be very pleased with what England did today,” he added.
“As we move on to Dunedin, then the autumn and the Six Nations, and then the big one – the World Cup – the fact England will be bitterly disappointed to have lost tells you more; even more than the fact they got close to New Zealand with half the team missing today.
”They went into this game with belief, they played with that belief. They have to eliminate certain errors but I think they showed the world today they are serious contenders. Next week in Dunedin – as we thought for a long time – is going to be splendid.
“New Zealand are going to get better, and they’re going to have to because so will England.”