Fielden revels in field day

Rugby League World Cup: England stretched to breaking point by Ireland's happy band but breathe again
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The Independent Online

England's extra class ultimately overwhelmed the romance and emotion of Ireland in the match this Lincoln Rugby League World Cup has been waiting for.

England's extra class ultimately overwhelmed the romance and emotion of Ireland in the match this Lincoln Rugby League World Cup has been waiting for.

The final scoreline tells nothing about a fierce contest that was in the balance until the last few minutes. Cynics smiled when it was suggested that this game between friends and rivals at club level could be Britain's equivalent of the war without guns that is Australia's State of Origin.

There were more mistakes than you would see at that level, but for commitment, intensity and non-stop excitement this was as good. In the end, a tackle by Stuart Fielden, a tower of strength throughout, and a four-man move that was just too slick for the Irish to counter made the difference, but for a long time this was a game that could have gone either way.

The key item of good news for Ireland before the game was that both Tommy Martyn and Michael Eagar were fit to take their places in a full-strength line-up, that, judging by the amount of green in the Headingley crowd, had attracted a slice of local support.

For England, John Kear's latest reshuffle saw Paul Wellens at full-back, Kris Radlinski in the centres and Darren Rogers coming in on the wing. Sean Long lined up at stand-off, directly opposite his St Helens' team-mate, Martyn. How two players so familiar with the nuances of each other's play fair in a head-to-head struggle was one of the more intriguing questions hanging in the air as Martyn and his colleagues sang "Ireland's Call" with their customary fervour.

It took just three minutes for England to put a dampener, if only a temporary one, on that fervour. Paul Deacon, brought into the first-choice side at scrum-half, launched a high kick to the wing, Rogers took it cleanly and the angle of his run brought Brian Carney inside, giving Keith Senior room to score in the corner.

Martyn's first sortie for Ireland ended with an overhit kick, while Andy Farrell, furiously pumped up in his role as England captain, sent Adrian Morley on a threatening run. But it was Martyn who struck, taking Luke Ricketson's reverse pass and going through weak tackling to ground the ball just before sliding dead, Steve Prescott's kick gaving Ireland the lead.

England should have been back in front when Stuart Fielden made the break down the left, but tried to force his pass to Morley outside him when there were unmarked men in support in the other direction. Ireland made the most of that let off. Midway through the first half, Ricketson again did the damage, slipping his pass for Michael Withers to slide through some threadbare English cover.

Farrell repaired part of the damage with a penalty for offside, but England now knew that they were in for a desperate fight and another telling break went to waste when Farrell delayed his pass. England's defence remained under heavy pressure, with Chev Walker being tackled behind his try line from Martyn's searching kick, and Radlinski just getting enough of a grip on Eagar's ankles to prevent a third Irish try.

Another twist a minute before the break was Long's pass that picked out the substitute Jamie Peacock for the equalising try and Farrell's conversion from the touchline putting England in front. England were allowed to edge further ahead when David Barnhill laid into Tony Smith at the start of the second half, after Paul Anderson's run had stretched the Irish defence. The tension in the air was illustrated by Barry McDermott's high tackle on Fielden, for which he was placed on report.

The game showed further signs of swinging England's way when Senior's pass sent Rogers away. Carney and Prescott cut him off, but Prescott was sin-binned for hanging on too long in the tackle. A short-handed Ireland denied Farrell a potentially match-clinching try through Kevin Campion's tackle, but on 58 minutes they were broken down by a move of the highest class, Long darting through and finding Farrell who in turn used Smith to finish it off.

More marvellous handling by Wellens, Farrell and Radlinski gave Walker the try that put it beyond doubt. There was still time for Ricketson to put Withers through for his second try. If nothing else, it reduced the gap between two sides that had given their all to a truer reflection of the play.

England: Wellens (St Helens); Walker (Leeds), Radlinski (Wigan), Senior (Leeds), Rogers (Castleford); Long (St Helens), Deacon (Bradford); Fielden (Bradford), Rowley (Halifax), Anderson (Bradford), Morley (Leeds), Forshaw (Bradford), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes used: Smith (Wigan), Naylor (Bradford), Peacock (Bradford), Howard (Brisbane)

Ireland: Prescott (Wakefield); Carney (Hull), Withers (Bradford), Eagar (Castleford), Forster (Warrington); Martyn (St Helens), Sheridan (Leeds); O'Connor (Wigan), Williams (Melbourne), McDermott (Leeds), Joynt (St Helens), Campion (Brisbane), Ricketson (Sydney). Substitutes used: Clinch (Huddersfield), Barnhill (Leeds), Mathiou (Leeds), Southern (Salford).

Referee: T Mander (Australia).