Australia open the class gap

Rugby League World Cup: England battle to the end, but the green machine powers past
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The Independent Online

England showed an abundance of pride, determination and diligence in their opening match in the Lincoln Financial World Cup last night. The trouble is that it is going to take rather more than that to unseat the world champions. As so often in the past, a British side remained theoretically in contention for most of the match, but late tries from Adam MacDougall and Wendell Sailor - his second - completed a scoreline that was a fair reflection of Australia's superiority.

England showed an abundance of pride, determination and diligence in their opening match in the Lincoln Financial World Cup last night. The trouble is that it is going to take rather more than that to unseat the world champions. As so often in the past, a British side remained theoretically in contention for most of the match, but late tries from Adam MacDougall and Wendell Sailor - his second - completed a scoreline that was a fair reflection of Australia's superiority.

The weather was a factor, both in keeping the crowd down to less than capacity and in preventing Australia from producing the fluent rugby of which they looked ominously capable. If that helped England, then the loss of Stuart Spruce on the eve of the match with a stomach bug threatened to make their task harder.

As it was, moving Kris Radlinski back to his usual position of full-back and bringing the 18-year old Chev Walker to mark the formidable Sailor did not do England a great deal of harm. It seemed a lot to ask of the young Leeds player, with only a handful of first team appearances behind him, but he battled as gamely as anyone and Sailor would probably have scored his tries even with a more experienced player opposing him.

The overriding difficulty about playing Australia is that they capitalise on such a high proportion of their opportunities. The defenders do not have to come up short many times for them to gallop away.

England's first lapse came after just five minutes, when Robbie Kearns was allowed to make ground through the middle with alarming ease and, from a quick play-the-ball, Brett Kimmorley kicked with pin-point accuracy for the corner, with Walker the end man in a condensed defensive line. Sailor won the race with yards to spare and the video replay showed that he had been comfortably onside.

England were kept in the game not just by their dogged efforts, but also by a penalty count heavily in their favour. Andy Farrell halved the lead from one of those kicks, but their golden opportunity came when Sean Long asked questions of the Australian defence with a clever little kick. He seemed to be obstructed by Brad Fittler but the ball still fell for Leon Pryce, just a year older than Walker, but a calm, composed performer on the night, who narrowly failed to get the scoring pass away to Scott Naylor on the inside.

Fittler had a try disallowed for what must have been the tiniest of knock-ons. "It's disappointing when that happens" said a sceptical Australia coach, Chris Anderson. "Everyone on the ground knew that was a try." There was no reprieve for England six minutes before half-time, when swift and simple movement of the ball ended with Fittler sending Matthew Gidley through a hole for a try and a six-point lead at the break.

A couple of darting runs from Long were the biggest threat to Australia in the second half. As long as England remained within one score, they had a vestige of hope, but after 55 minutes Keith Senior, by now playing in the pack in place of Adrian Morley, off with an injury which, fortunately for his prospects in the rest of the tournament is not a recurrence of his sternum trouble, conceded a penalty for holding down Gorden Tallis. Australia showed their respect for the British display by opting to take the two points and the game was virtually safe from then on.

Sailor almost landed the killer blow when he was held up over the line, an effort that was typical of England's defensive honesty. That alone was never going to be quite enough and, with 14 minutes left, Scott Hill's pick-up and Fittler's pass sent MacDougall over. English supporters started looking nervously at their watches, wondering how much worse it was going to get. There was no collapse, but Sailor cruised in for an easy try with 90 seconds to play and four tries to nil just about summed it up fairly.

"I was delighted with the commitment and effort of my players and I didn't feel we got what we deserved," said the England coach, John Kear. "We will be a stronger England for the experience. Those youngsters out there will have gained two years in experience. You could see them grow in confidence. We've a lot of work to do and a lot from which we can take heart," he said.

One further relief for Kear was that his stand-off, Tony Smith, was cleared after being placed on report for suspected use of a forearm to the head of the centre, Ryan Girdler.

Kear's squad should not get any weaker - provided Morley recovers in time - and he also hopes to have Paul Sculthorpe back in harness next week. The problem he will still face is finding the extra layer of creativity that will be needed to lift England from honourable defeat to potential victors over Australia if they were to meet them again in the World Cup final next month.

England: Radlinski (Wigan); Pryce (Bradford), Naylor (Bradford), Senior (Leeds), Walker (Leeds); Smith (Wigan), Long (St Helens); Howard (Brisbane), Rowley (Halifax), Fielden (Bradford), Morley (Leeds), Forshaw (Bradford), Farrell (Wigan, capt). Substitutes used: Wellens (St Helens), Sinfield (Leeds), Fleary (Leeds), Anderson (Bradford).

Australia: Lockyer (Brisbane); Rogers (Cronulla), Girdler (Penrith), Gidley (Newcastle), Sailor (Brisbane); Fittler (Sydney, capt), Kimmorley (Melbourne); Webcke (Brisbane), Johns (Newcastle), Kearns (Melbourne), Tallis (Brisbane), Fletcher (Sydney), Hill (Melbourne). Substitutes used: MacDougall (Newcastle), Croker (Canberra). Britt (Canterbury), Stevens (Cronulla).

Referee: D Pakieto (New Zealand).

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