England will be forced into playing pragmatic rugby in South Africa this summer as they lack the midfield quality required to deliver an expansive style of play, says Stuart Barnes.
Barnes was critical of England's midfield distribution during their 57-26 victory over the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday. Despite running in eight tries, England's passing around 10, 12 and 13 was poor and a number of opportunities were squandered.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster clearly wants England to develop an expansive and entertaining playing style. But Barnes believes he may have to temper those intentions in the three Test series against South Africa this June as England lack the passing quality to unleash the exciting outside backs such as Chris Ashton and Ben Foden.
Of England's midfield against the Barbarians, Barnes told the Rugby Club. "It was not professional standard, let alone England . Owen Farrell took a load of my criticism on the day but Charlie Hodgson passed badly and Brad Barritt did as well. But Owen Farrell, he's such a perfectionist that you would look to him to improve.
"In a negative way I am quite positive. They finished very well with Alex Goode, Christian Wade and Jonathan Joseph showing just how much excitement we have got for the future. But the problems England have in the midfield tell Lancaster that England can't go wide and play romantic rugby, they know how they have got to play."
Former England centre Will Greenwood, however, thinks the influence of Mike Catt, who has been appointed as attack coach on a short-term basis, will ensure England show some attacking flair against the Springboks. And Greenwood believes Owen Farrell is in pole position for the fly-half berth looking towards the 2015 World Cup, despite the competition from Charlie Hodgson and Toby Flood.
"They have got to be pragmatic at times but Mike Catt is not going to allow the side to be pragmatic," he said. "You can see the World Cup fly-half in terms of Farrell forming at ten, Tuilagi is your go to guy at 13, the 12 slot needs to be filled.
"I am not confident of a series victory, but I am confident they will go down perform extremely well, nick a test and hopefully take it to a decider."
With Tom Croft and Tom Wood ruled out of the tour and James Haskell not being ready for the first Test on June 9, there is a slot up for grabs in the England back-row alongside captain Chris Robshaw and No 8 Ben Morgan. And Dewi Morris believes Exeter's Tom Johnson's performance against the Barbarians has catapulted him into contention, along with Phil Dowson.
"I thought Tom Johnson had a pretty good game," Morris said. "He got more powerful and stronger as the game went on.
"He chases well, like a Lewis Moody-style flanker, he wants to put his body out there. His communication skills are good and he has good hand-eye coordination, there are a few back-rows who can't do that. Will Johnson get the nod? We'll have to see. Stuart Lancaster will probably go for Phil Dowson, James Haskell then may feature in the second test but he (Johnson) is an option."