England acquire an early advantage

RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP: Larder's tactics pay off as Farrell kick- starts tournament in gripping fashion
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The Independent Online

reports from Wembley

England 20 Australia 16

For England and for the Halifax Centenary World Cup in general, everything worked out far better than could have been reasonably expected at Wembley on Saturday.

Not only was there a crowd, 41,271, which vindicated the debatable decision to take the opening match of the tournament to London, there was also a contest for them to savour which did everything that could have been asked in terms of promoting the rest of the competition.

It was not among the best of international matches: there were too many mistakes in it for that. But it was consistently gripping and it was won by the side that organised and executed its plan the better.

An England side weakened by injuries inspired little pre-match confidence, but they played, individually and collectively, well above expectations.

If Andrew Farrell won the man of the match award from loose forward, then his predecessor in the role, Phil Clarke, was not far behind after the way he played in his second choice position of second row.

That was one arguable tactical decision where Phil Larder, the England coach, got it resoundingly right.

He kept Farrell in the role which he has filled so well for Wigan this season, giving him the freedom to use his staggeringly wide array of gifts.

Farrell not only scored a crucial try before half-time to keep his side in touch with their opponents, using all his formidable size and strength to charge over down the blind side from the base of the scrum, he was also instrumental in forcing Australia back, especially in the second half, with a high- calibre kicking game.

Clarke, playing much closer to the middle of the field than when he has the number 13 on his back, was an inspiration in both attack and defence.

The other major plusses were the players with whom England got away with obvious risks.

In the absence of Martin Offiah, John Bentley had a solid and mistake-free game on the left wing. Karl Harrison, with a period of recuperation in mid-match, helped Andy Platt get through the necessary work up front and the youngster, Kris Radlinski, had just one dodgy moment in an otherwise assured display.

His error in failing to get under a Brad Fittler bomb which then sat up conveniently for Mark Coyne allowed Australia to draw level, a situation from which past experience suggested that they would go on to win the match.

The fact that this did not happen owed something to an uncharacteristically error-prone effort on their part and rather more to England's ability to take advantage of those errors.

John Hopoate's loss of the ball in the tackle was a tribute not just to the way Lee Jackson and Barrie-Jon Mather - another conspicuous English success - hit him in that particular tackle. It was also part of a cumulative effect - a chain reaction as Diana Ross put it - set in motion by consistently punishing defence throughout the match.

The other out-of-character flaw in Australia's game - their loose handling when in promising attacking positions - was at centre stage when Paul Newlove, fired up out of all recognition by something at half-time, intercepted a Jim Dymock pass for a try that made the match safe.

No doubt Bob Fulton, the Australian coach, is right when he says that Australia in the final would be a much tougher proposition. It is hard to imagine them dropping as much ball again and there will certainly be some adjustment in the line-up.

Hopoate's place is obviously under threat. Apart from his blunder to give Jason Robinson his try, he also showed his immaturity as well, perhaps, as trying to prove that he really is a fair dinkum Australian by sledging Radlinski after his mistake.

Hopoate chose to play for Australia rather than Tonga in this tournament. After his embarrassments in Saturday's match, the Tongan manager, Inoke Faletau, said that he would now be lucky to make their team.

A regrouped Australian side will still be as dangerous as ever, if the World Cup follows its natural course and they meet England in the final at Wembley on 28 October.

Fulton, who had grounds for complaint over Chris Joynt's try early in the second half, did not feel that there was too much wrong with them on Saturday that a little more match practice will not cure. "I thought our defence was good. How many breaks did England make against us?" he asked.

For now, the short answer to that is: "Enough."

ENGLAND: Radlinski; Robinson, Mather (Wigan), Newlove (Bradford), Bentley (Halifax); Powell (Keighley), Edwards (Wigan, capt); Harrison (Halifax), Jackson (Sheffield), Platt (Widnes), Betts (Auckland), Clarke (Sydney City), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Joynt (St Helens) for Harrison (27), Haughton (Wigan) for Platt (64).

AUSTRALIA: Brasher (Sydney Tigers); Wishart (Illawarra), Coyne (St George), Hill, Hopoate (Manly); Fittler (Penrith, capt), Toovey; Gillespie (Manly), Bartrim (St George), Carroll, Menzies (Manly), Pay, Dymock (Sydney Bulldogs). Substitutes: Harragon (Newcastle) for Gillespie (22), Smith (Sydney Bulldogs) for Carroll (51), M Johns (Newcastle) for Bartrim (70).

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).