Crabtree and Tomkins restore England's belief

England 16 Australia 26
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The Independent Online

England left it too late to have a chance of beating Australia in the Four Nations, but had time to rebuild the confidence that could set up a rematch.

Tony Smith's side need to beat New Zealand at Huddersfield on Saturday to reach the final of the tournament, where the Australians are as good as certain to be waiting. After the first half at Wigan, that would have seemed the most daunting of prospects. On the evidence of the second, it might just be manageable.

England trailed 26-0 at half-time, cut to shreds by players like Darren Lockyer, Billy Slater and especially Greg Inglis. "We wanted to nil England in the second half," said the Australian coach, Tim Sheens. "Instead, they did it to us.

"I wouldn't disrespect England by saying we took our foot of the pedal," he added, "but there was an element of that."

Not only did an England team on its way to humiliation achieve the rarity of keeping Australia scoreless for 48 minutes, they also scored three tries, could have had a couple more and, given another 10 minutes, might just have done the unthinkable and got their noses in front.

The key to that transformation was their bench, with all four substitutes making a significant impact. Sam Burgess scored one try and could have had another, Kyle Eastmond fizzed with ideas and Ben Westwood had his best game at this level.

Best of all was the top-knotted Huddersfield behemoth Eorl Crabtree, making his senior Test debut and richly justifying his inclusion. He hammered into the Australia defence and slipped out some wonderful off-loads. The English starting pack was solid enough, but Crabtree was the man the opposition looked as though they did not fancy.

"Eorl really lifted us," Smith said. "It's what he's been doing for Huddersfield all year and he's taken it onto the international stage."

England's other big success in the second half was the local hero, Sam Tomkins. His name was greeted by the loudest cheers when the teams were read out, but his first 40 minutes as a full international were a struggle. He tried in vain to get involved and missed a chance when he failed to react in time to support Kevin Sinfield's half-break.

Tomkins was a different player after the interval, imposing himself on proceedings, causing Australia all sorts of problems with his elusive running and his invention, including setting up a try for Gareth Ellis.

It was a less successful afternoon for another of Smith's new breed of England players Tom Briscoe, substituted at half-time without appearing to have done a great deal wrong in some no-win defensive situations.

The real worry, however, was the form of his one experienced half-back, Danny McGuire. He worked hard, but his decision-making and execution were well below his usual standard and he will be lucky to retain his place.

Smith has agonised over how best to use his three prodigies – Tomkins, Eastmond and Richie Myler – and perhaps the time has now come to team up two of them at half-back against New Zealand.

They will not face the Kiwi centre Steve Matai, who suffered a suspected fracture to his eye-socket in the 62-12 win over France in Toulouse. The French, ravaged by injury and swine flu, competed well in the first half, trailing just 10-6 shortly before the break. Sam Perrett scored a hat-trick of tries for the Kiwis as they took control.

England: S Briscoe; T Briscoe, L Smith, Shenton, Hall; McGuire, Tomkins; Morley, Roby, Graham, Peacock, Ellis, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Crabtree, Westwood, Eastmond, Burgess.

Australia: Slater; Hayne, Hodges, Inglis, Morris; Lockyer, Thurston; Hannant, C Smith, Civoniceva, Watmough, Gallen, Hindmarsh. Substitutes used: Farah, Lewis, White, Shillington.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).

Scotland v Wales final

*Wales and Scotland will contest the final of the European Cup in Bridgend next Sunday. A young and inexperienced Welsh side beat Ireland 42-12 at Pontypridd last night, despite going 12 points down to two early tries.

Iestyn Harris's team showed more of the determination that shone through against England two weeks ago, storming back through tries from eight different scorers – Ian Webster, Lee Williams, Rhys Williams, Ashley Bateman, Geraint Davies, Jordan James, who was their captain and man of the match, Elliot Kear and Gil Dudson.

Earlier in the day, the Scots beat Lebanon 22-10 on a waterlogged pitch in Glasgow. Their tries came from Brendon Lindsay, James Nixon and Kevin Henderson, the first of them while Scotland had two men in the sin bin. It was a game of five sin-binnings in all, including Iain Morrison on two occasions.

Lebanon now play Ireland in the third-placed match at Bridgend on Sunday.