England's approach needs to be bold

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The Independent Online

The moment of truth for British World Cup hopes arrives in a double dose this weekend, with England and Wales facing mighty tasks if they are to prevent an all-antipodean final.

The moment of truth for British World Cup hopes arrives in a double dose this weekend, with England and Wales facing mighty tasks if they are to prevent an all-antipodean final.

John Kear's "native English" side has the first tilt and the better chance, facing New Zealand at Bolton's Reebok Stadium this afternoon. The venue will inevitably bring back memories of the match almost two years ago, when Great Britain led 16-8 at half-time in the second Test, only to be swept aside and beaten 36-18.

Andy Farrell, captain that day as well, believes the lesson is an obvious one. "That's the sort of side they are. You can think you've got them under control and they get away from you."

Despite Lesley "The Volcano" Vainikolo's struggle with a dose of flu that could prevent him from erupting with full force at the Reebok and a general feeling that the Kiwis could be coming into this one a little underdone, they are capable of running riot again.

Much is made of their sheer physical bulk - and there is no denying that they are a huge team - but the refined skills of players such as Stacey Jones, Stephen Kearney, the Paul brothers and Richie Barnett cannot be under-estimated.

In these situations, British sides have often opted for a policy of containment. It has not worked particularly well in the past and Kear, who, along with his patriotic theme, has at least given the impression of putting plenty of thought into what is needed for each match, could go the other way this time.

The bold approach would consist of maximising the impact of the most dangerous attacking players at the start of the match, by starting with two tackle-breakers - Adrian Morley and Jamie Peacock - in the second row and Sean Long in the scrum-half role he prefers.

"I can't seem to get involved in the game from stand-off," he says. England need him to be involved today, even if it means playing Farrell or the returning Paul Sculthorpe at No 6.

The Kiwis admit they have not had a demanding game yet, so there must be something to be said for trying to catch them cold early on and then defending a lead - preferably with more success than at Bolton two years ago. Kear will spin out the selection process, not naming his team until an hour before kick-off.

If England's assignment looks tricky, Wales' is regarded as Mission: Impossible. Not only will they face the world champion Australians at Huddersfield tomorrow night, they will do so with a bits-and-pieces side that has performed its own small miracle by getting this far.

Their coach, Clive Griffiths, has already lost one of his first-choice players, with Paul Sterling dropping out with a groin strain to be replaced by Chris Smith. His loose forward, Dean Busby, remains in doubt with a similar injury, but Mick Jenkins, the diminutive converted second-rower whose kamikaze approach to the job has been typical of the Welsh spirit, is adamant that he will be fit after treatment for wear and tear.

The Australia captain, Brad Fittler, this week stressed his respect for Iestyn Harris and Keiron Cunningham. Wales have one other player of international calibre in Anthony Sullivan, but he has rarely seen the ball this World Cup.

Beyond that, they have any number of players like Jenkins, trying their guts out. It is admirable, but it is nothing like enough when confronted with a side of the all-round ability of the Australians. An honourable margin of defeat would be a relief to all who wish them well.

After that, the future is uncertain for Wales. The boat was missed when no Super League franchise was established after the 1995 World Cup and the same favourable circumstances are no longer in place.

By the time of the next World Cup, Harris and Cunningham could be playing rugby union, many of the other members of this team will have retired and it is far from obvious where their replacements are coming from.

"The Welsh side could be going into hibernation and it could be permanent hibernation," said their coach, Clive Griffiths, this week. Dylan Thomas put it more poetically and defiantly. Wales will not want to go quietly into what could be a long, dark night.

* Dave Harrison, who announced on Thursday that he would be stepping down as Hull KR coach in 12 months after being unable to work with the board, said yesterday that he has been sacked by the club.

* Martin Pearson, who would have been in Wales' World Cup squad but for a ban imposed for using performance-enhancing drugs, has been given the chance to resurrect his Super League career with Wakefield. Pearson, then with Halifax, was suspended until the end of this year, but is free to pick up the pieces with Trinity.

* Bernard Dwyer, who retired as a Bradford player earlier this year, is to become Academy coach at the club.

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