Head coach Stuart Lancaster hopes England’s tour of South Africa can prove a blueprint for success despite their series loss to the Springboks.
England will be playing to avoid a whitewash when they face South Africa in the third Test in Port Elizabeth on Saturday after defeats in Durban and Johannesburg.
But Lancaster still believes much will be learned from the tour, particularly from the two additional matches added to the schedule against the Northern and Southern Barbarians in Potchefstroom and Kimberley, respectively.
Lancaster fielded effectively a second-string side in both of those midweek games – which resulted in victories – and feels having an enlarged squad to play them is more beneficial than separate tours for the Saxons team.
In a previous role with the Rugby Football Union, Lancaster coached the second-tier Saxons team at the now defunct Churchill Cup tournament.
Lancaster said: “There are pros and cons to doing this, as I have said before.
“But this time last year I was coaching the Saxons at the Churchill Cup and now the Churchill Cup has finished.
“Now I have got the opportunity to take 40-odd players and work on them together. Although it is not without its challenges, from a personal point of view I prefer this.
“You also learn a lot about players – that is a big part of it.
“We want to be in a position, by the time we get round to the autumn internationals, where we have a very clear idea about which players we think can go on and play at the highest level for the next three years.”
Lock forward George Robson, who was captain in both of the midweek games, agrees that this year’s arrangement is far more beneficial for the national side in a broader sense.
The 26-year-old said: “I think this experience for a lot of players will be invaluable, myself included.
“To get the opportunity to train with the first team, to work with the coaches, soak up information from guys like Stuart and Graham Rowntree – it is a great opportunity for us all.
“You can only really get that chance with a large group.”
The counter-argument is that in having a 42-man squad overseen by one group of coaches, resources may have been stretched to the detriment on the Test team.
Lancaster maintains that his top team will continue striving to set the highest standards and not be satisfied with the battling defeats of the first two Tests.
The former Leeds coach has transformed the mood of the England camp since last year’s World Cup and he at least wants a consolation win on Saturday to maintain that progression.
He said: “I don’t think there will be any hiding this week, we want to set the bar high.
“We won’t sit back and say that (last Saturday) was good enough.
“We’ll review it in context of a side that wants to win these games, rather than a side that drags itself back into it and almost wins it.”
After the altitude of the games in Kimberley, Johannesburg and Potchefstroom, England were due to arrive on the south coast in more familiar cold and drizzly conditions.
They left Potchefstroom after a hard-fought 57-31 win over the Northern Barbarians in which full-back Nick Abendanon and centre Jonny May – not original choices for the tour – scored five tries between them.
Abendanon claimed a first-half hat-trick as England took a firm grip but the Barbarians scored four tries themselves to leave the game delicately poised early in the second half.
With Ben Morgan and Anthony Allen also crossing and the hosts conceding a late penalty try, England ultimately won by a comfortable margin.
The only downside was injury to winger Ugo Monye, who was taken to hospital after being knocked out in a first-half tackle. The 29-year-old was making his first appearance of the tour after a hamstring injury and might have had a chance of making the Test team. That has now been ruled out but the Harlequins back was discharged from hospital after scans revealed no head or neck damage.