England reap rewards of being in control

RUGBY LEAGUE WORLD CUP: Welsh vigour dries up as icy professionalism steers Larder's men towards Wembley
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The Independent Online

reports from Old Trafford

England 25 Wales 10

Poise and professionalism can be more powerful than passion, when they are refined into the high-octane fuel on which England ran at Old Trafford on Saturday. Wales were not hammered or humiliated in the first semi-final of the Halifax Centenary World Cup, but they were put firmly in their place by opponents who controlled the match virtually from start to finish.

The spark was not quite there for the Welsh. Perhaps their emotional victory over Western Samoa six days previously had taken more out of them than they knew, but they never charged onto the ball with the fanatical vigour they had shown in Swansea.

England, on the other hand, played it just about perfectly. After a couple of out-of- character penalties conceded by Phil Clarke before he settled into his icy discipline, they gave Wales nothing.

As they knew they must, they played a game based on the mobility of their back-row forwards, their ability to support each other and to switch the focus of attack. England were also well served by their front row, where Karl Harrison and Andy Platt might not have caught the untrained eye all that often, but worked doggedly and without mistakes.

Lee Jackson was another major success, repeatedly making valuable ground from acting-half to keep the English momentum rolling.

The pack for the final on Saturday picks itself, although there is a slight worry over that giant with the glorious array of skills, Andrew Farrell, who was niggled by a groin injury and was uncomfortable kicking even before he was replaced in the second half.

If there is any doubt about Farrell's fitness to kick, it makes it all the more essential that Bobbie Goulding is in the side at Wembley.

The St Helens scrum-half was voted man of the match on Saturday. While that might slightly underestimate the contribution of others, there is no doubt that he was a key figure at Old Trafford.

Quite apart from the two magnificent cross-kicks that presented the still tentative Martin Offiah with two gift tries, Goulding was a bundle of energy and enterprise. The way he put Clarke in for the try that rounded off proceedings was the mark of a scrum-half hungry for involvement and capable of setting up incisive movements right to the end.

Even if Shaun Edwards is fit for Wembley, the England coach, Phil Larder, will find it almost impossible to leave Goulding out.

Nor was there too much wrong with his link with a new stand-off in Castleford's Tony Smith. Although it was not made public until shortly before the match, the England camp had known from early in the week that Daryl Powell's calf injury would not allow him to play and that Smith would be in the side.

What they lost in experience and defensive rigour, they regained in pace and agility, with Smith buzzing effectively behind Goulding and his forwards.

Larder, not surprisingly, was more satisfied with his side's defence than anything else.

Only once were they breached and that was after the awkward Rowland Phillips began to trouble a side which had a slight suspicion that the job was done.

The other Welsh chances were only fleeting; two runs from Anthony Sullivan that ended with him taken into touch and a dart for the line from Kevin Ellis.

Apart from his now obligatory single fumble of a high kick, Kris Radlinski was immaculate at full-back and his emergence as a player of great ability and maturity has been one of the features of the tournament.

Wales have had their own rising star in Iestyn Harris, who, at 19, was identified by his captain, Jonathan Davies, on Saturday as having "all the ability to become one of the really great players".

One of the great rugby league players is what Davies himself has been. It is not even possible to feel too crotchety with him over his desired return to rugby union when he admits so cheerfully that one of his main reasons is that it is so much easier.

Easier, but no more satisfying. Davies went out of his way to describe the World Cup as "the most emotional two weeks of my sporting career".

Sometimes, however, emotion is just not enough.

England: Tries Newlove, Betts, Offiah 2, Clarke; Goals Farrell, Goulding. Wales: Try Phillips; Goals Davies 3.

ENGLAND: Radlinski (Wigan); Robinson (Wigan), Pinkey (Keighley), Newlove (Bradford), Offiah (Wigan); Smith (Castleford), Goulding (St Helens); Harrison (Halifax), Jackson

(Sheffield), Platt (Auckland), Betts (Auckland, capt), Clarke (Sydney City), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Sampson (Castleford) for Harrison, 54; Haughton (Wigan) for Farrell, 62; Cassidy (Wigan) for Platt, 68.

WALES: Harris (Warrington); Devereux (Widnes), Bateman (Cronulla), Gibbs (St Helens), Sullivan (St Helens); Davies (Warrington, capt), Ellis (North Queensland); Skerrett (Wigan), Hall (Wigan), Young (Salford), Moriarty (Halifax), Quinnell (Wigan), Eyres (Leeds). Substitutes: Jones (Warrington) for Young, 55; Cunningham (St Helens) for Hall, 59; Phillips (Workington) for Skerrett, 59; Skerrett for Quinnell, 69.

Referee: E Ward (Australia).