Classic fare at Stoop gives England food for thought

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The Independent Online

England recognise that they will have to improve dramatically if they are to close the gap between the northern and southern hemispheres that has already become apparent in the Four Nations.

The hosts opened their campaign with an unconvincing 34-12 win over France on Friday night, but then watched Australia and New Zealand produce rugby league from a different planet in their 20-20 draw at The Stoop on Saturday.

A match that the Kangaroo coach, Tim Sheens, called ''a classic'' was tied-up in the last minute by a try that the scorer, Cameron Smith, admitted was a fluke.

His own pass went to ground, but the retrieving Greg Inglis for once found the Kiwi defence off guard, allowing Smith to go over for the draw.

It still means that England will face a wounded Kangaroo at Wigan on Saturday, but Gareth Ellis, the Englishman back from his first season in the NRL, does not believe that they will necessarily bank on the gap in standards that was there for all to see at the weekend.

''Australia can either dismiss us or think that they are going to have a game on their hands,'' he said.

England will have Richie Myler fit, despite the high tackle on him that saw Jean-Phillipe Baile sent of in the last minute at Doncaster. His case and that of his fellow-countryman, David Ferriol, who was placed on report for an elbow on Kevin Sinfield – also declared fit yesterday – will be considered by an international sub-committee of Paul Dixon and Ian Millward today.

New Zealand have sent for a potential replacement for their second-rower, Bronson Harrison, who suffered a calf injury at The Stoop. Harrison is regarded as doubtful for the game against France in Toulouse on Saturday, so the Kiwis have called up the 21-year-old South Sydney back-rower, Eddy Pettybourne.

The better news for them is that Greg Eastwood, who missed the game against Australia with a hamstring strain, will be fit to face France.

Papua New Guinea will play the Cook Islands in the final of the Pacific Cup this weekend, with the winners to take the fourth place in the Four Nations in Australia next year.

Lebanon made their mark in their first game in the European Cup, thrashing Italy 86-0 in Tripoli in a competition that also involves Wales, Scotland and Ireland.