Hock ends his exile with a try as England prevail
England 18 Exiles 10: Origin match under the midsummer weather but home win is welcome
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Sunday 17 June 2012
Without remotely scaling any heights, England were too good for the cream of Super League's overseas players in a low-key match at St Helens.
Steve McNamara's team avenged their defeat in the inaugural such match last year, but their antipodean opposition presented a pale shadow of the team that played that day. Weakened by withdrawals and by the loss in the second half of their captain, the Wigan half-back Thomas Leuluai, to a serious leg injury, the Exiles never asked enough questions of England to make this any sort of examination.
"It was a very tough game in very difficult conditions," said McNamara. "Both teams will play more football in game two.
The Exiles' Daniel Anderson said that Leuluai could be out for eight weeks with ankle ligament damage, adding: "We wanted to put on a show, but they were very profressional and efficient."
For the second year running, Huddersfield's Brett Hodgson was ruled out of the Exiles side by injury, which meant drafting Shannon McDonnell in at full-back and promoting Leuluai to captain.
That was less of a threat to the calibre of rugby on show, however, than the torrential downpour that greeted the kick-off. Maybe that could have been responsible for the Exiles' woeful handling as they struggled to find any early rhythm. England were not much better, however, and took the lead with a try that owed plenty to good fortune.
The scrum-half Rangi Chase grubber-kicked and the ball took a deflection off Scott Dureau's hand to fall for the Wigan second-rower Gareth Hock, who celebrated his return to the international fold after his two-year drugs ban with a try.
When the Exiles finally put together a meaningful attack, James Roby scythed down Willie Manu to snuff out the danger. England soon had a second try. Again there was a Chase kick at the heart of it, Carl Ablett palming the ball back to Kevin Sinfield, whose pass sent Danny Tickle barging over. Sinfield put over his second conversion and it was all looking a little too comfortable to be the mid-season test that the national side need if they are to challenge Australia and New Zealand.
The reminder that England were up against good players came when the Exiles' half-back combination of Leuluai and Dureau finally clicked to send the St Helens winger Francis Meli over for a try on his home ground. It all looked to have been brought under control again with an England try early in the second half, from yet another kick.
This time it was Sinfield who launched it and Joel Monaghan who could not hold on to it. Sam Tomkins was on hand to poach the touch-down in the corner and Sinfield kicked a third conversion.
There were still plenty of handling errors and the Exiles badly needed a spark from someone if they were to put their opponents under any pressure. As well as their kicking game, England's main virtue was their solid defence; they were up to anything that was thrown at them.
The flash of inspiration came from Tomkins, with an exquisite kick to the corner, though Ryan Hall fumbled it under pressure. In that same incident, Leuluai suffered a nasty-looking leg injury which saw him carried off on a stretcher.
The game was summed up when the Exiles' Trent Waterhouse passed to Ablett, who gave the ball straight back to him. From that self-inflicted pressure, Daryl Millard scored from a kick-through by Dureau, who also added the conversion.
With a gap of only eight points there was a glimpse of hope for the Exiles, but they were not sharp enough to carve out chances. We must hope for better from both sides when they meet again, on 4 July.
England: Tomkins; Charnley, Ablett, Atkins, Hall; Sinfield, Chase; Crabtree, Roby, Peacock, Hock, Tickle, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Burrow, Carvell, Mossop, Jones-Buchanan.
Exiles: McDonnell; Monaghan, Soliola, Millard, Meli; Leuluai, Dureau; Puletua, Hohaia, Lima, Manu, Waterhouse, Fa'alogo. Substitutes used: Faiumu, Laffranchi, Kaufusi, Lauaki.
Referee: B Thaler (England).
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