- Feature from Sunday's matchday programme
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- By Alex Lowe, deputy rugby correspondent of The Times
Josh Beaumont will follow in his father’s footsteps when he captains England XV on Sunday – but it is not the first time the Sale Sharks lock has led a team at Twickenham.
Six years ago, Josh Beaumont and Simon Hammersley were in the same Durham University team that completed an undefeated season with a 26-17 victory over Cardiff Metropolitan University in the BUCS final at Twickenham.
Hammersley set Durham on their way to victory by finishing a beautifully-crafted try; surging up from full back he shaped to pass to the man outside him but then twisted through three defenders to score. “He did more moves than Mae West,” roared the commentator. “He pirouetted like Darcey Bussell”.
Beaumont, the Durham captain, was more grunt than grace, playing as a second row enforcer and then leading his Durham team up the steps at Twickenham to receive the trophy. “That was my 21st birthday and a great memory,” he recalled. “It was not a quiet evening.”
On Sunday, Beaumont and Hammersley will run out together at Twickenham once again; the captain and the full back reunited with the mission of regaining the Quilter Cup from the Barbarians and, in doing so, flying the flag for university rugby.
Beaumont and Hammersley are joined in this England XV squad by Alex Dombrandt, the Harlequins flanker who has enjoyed a breakthrough season in the Premiership after being recruited from Cardiff Metropolitan University.
“It is nice to be back playing with Simon at Twickenham,” Beaumont said. “We played there in two finals together. He is a class player. I saw that straight away at university and he shows that every week in the Premiership. Hopefully he gets his chance this weekend to show what he can do on a bigger stage.
“With Alex in the squad too, it just shows that the university route is becoming a more viable pathway. We couldn’t speak highly enough of our experiences in the BUCS league and hope it continues to go from strength to strength.
“We are part of an exciting young team this week and hopefully we can really shine on the big occasion. This is always a great fixture.”
A proud moment
But turning the tables on the Baa-Baas would be no mean feat. 12 months ago, the Barbarians performance was a thrilling display, with Chris Ashton scoring a hat-trick, to defeat England 63-45. Pat Lam, the Bristol Bears director of rugby, is coaching them once again and he has recruited another star-studded squad.
Beaumont knows what it will take. He is well-versed in this fixture, having played in these non-cap games on three previous occasions: in 2015, just two years after gracing the Twickenham turf for Durham, in 2017 and last year.
“I was really quite raw in 2015 but my game has developed over the last four years, from playing in the Premiership and being around the England squad,” Beaumont said.
“It was always an aspiration to pull on an England jersey at Twickenham and captaining the team this weekend will be a very proud moment for me and the family. As captain I am just trying to get all the guys to integrate over a short period of time. It is not that different from what the Barbarians will be doing.”
Disco outfits and moustaches
The methods will differ slightly. Last year the Barbarians prepared for the game by dressing up in disco outfits for a night out. Chris Ashton applied his moustache with permanent marker that took three days to wash off. Playing with England, the theory of building bonds off the field to generate a unity on it remains the same.
“We had a team barbecue when we came together on Monday and we have had a few dinners out during the week. We want to create an environment where people can feel comfortable and form new relationships,” said Beaumont.
“We have an exciting group of players going out there and we want them to express themselves.”
In some ways, a Barbarians fixture is the closest that a professional player gets to those days back at university or club rugby, when there is very little analysis that can be done. It is about managing the game as it unfolds, so England will go into the fixture with a simple gameplan.
“With guys being pulled in from different clubs, with different patterns of play and different systems, we will keep a simple structure and to allow the individual players to flourish and express themselves,” Beaumont said.
“We have to react to certain things that happen on the pitch. That is the beauty of playing the Barbarians. You don’t know what they will throw at you. With Pat coaching, we can look at the way the Bristol Bears have played this year and what the Barbarians did last year, but I am sure they will have something up their sleeve.
“You have to highlight some of their key individuals. The Northampton guys will know about Taqele Naiyaravoro and can offer some key insights. Basically, it is about not letting them have as much ball as last year. We need to be unified as a team and not allow them to play that Barbarians style of rugby.”
Easier said than done, but Beaumont has some experienced hands to help him, even though the England XV is inexperienced at this level. Teimana Harrison captained Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals and will start at No.8, Paul Hill and Tommy Taylor have both been capped and Marcus Smith the Harlequins fly half, has spent long periods in the senior England squad.
“It is great to have those guys around me, guys in key positions who have played a lot of Premiership rugby,” Beaumont said.
If all does go to plan for him on Sunday, then Beaumont will once again be ascending those steps in Twickenham’s west stand to collect a trophy. “I was very proud when Jim Mallinder (the coach) asked me to be captain and hopefully I will put in a good performance and repay that trust,” he said.