Kear taps England's patriotic vein

Coach concentrates on national pride to produce a team who can stand up to the powerful Antipodeans in this autumn's rugby league World Cup.
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The Independent Online

It was not just the after-effects of a holiday in Corfu that gave John Kear a warm, optimistic glow as he consigned one coaching role to history and began to concentrate full-time on another yesterday.

It was not just the after-effects of a holiday in Corfu that gave John Kear a warm, optimistic glow as he consigned one coaching role to history and began to concentrate full-time on another yesterday.

Sacked by the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants, Super League's bottom club, earlier this month, Kear has taken time out to reflect on the much bigger task that lies ahead - that of leading England into the Lincoln World Cup this autumn.

"I've put Huddersfield out of my mind," he says. "I'm relieved, to tell you the truth. When you're focusing so much on a ship that's sinking - which they were - it can take your mind off the England job."

Now, with no other distractions, batteries re-charged and sun-tan topped up, Kear can concentrate on the national side, undeterred by the fact that most people expect them to perform only slightly better in the World Cup than the Giants did in Super League.

The side he will have at his disposal is, after all, the Great Britain one that has been humbled by both Australia and New Zealand in its recent meetings with what are now the acknowledged big two of the world game, but with some first-choice players hived off to the other home nations.

Kear does not see it that way. In his book, he is better off with an England team playing to their full potential, rather than a Great Britain team not doing so.

"We have underperformed at international level and it hasn't been a fair reflection of the standard of the game in this country. Everyone knows that I'm a very proud Englishman and I want us to perform to the best of our ability in this tournament - which Great Britain haven't done. If we do that, we'll be more than competitive.

"We lose players to other home nations, but, with all due respect, there's only Iestyn Harris and Keiron Cunningham who would be in a first-choice Great Britain side. The rest would be English."

It is that distinctive vein of Englishness that Kear hopes to tap into leading up to the kick-off against Australia at Twickenham on 28 October.

While Ireland, Scotland and Wales are eagerly pulling in qualified players from the corners of the rugby league world, he is looking to put out a team of "true blue Brits," although he admits that it would give him some pause if one of the Antipodes' top players - a Brad Fittler or a Gorden Tallis - suddenly discovered an English grandparent and made themselves available.

"You never say never, do you? But we could have used the grandparent rule to bring on board some Australians who have contacted us and we've not done so. Given a choice between two players of similar standard, I'd always go with the Englishman."

All of which raises the question of how Kear will react to having an Australian overseeing his work with the national side, now that the Rugby League has appointed the former St George-Illawarra coach, David Waite, on a four month consultancy.

Publicly, Kear is diplomacy itself. "David Waite is coming in as a consultant and I'm head coach. I'll be more than happy to listen to his views on any aspect of the game that he feels can improve our chances of success. His knowledge of Australian and New Zealand players should be very beneficial."

That does not mean that Kear will be putting a welcome sign on his England dressing-room door. That will be his domain - and one for Englishmen only.

He already knows who most of those Englishmen will be. "I've got nine of my 13 settled in my mind; the other places are up for grabs." The areas where he feels relatively spoilt for choice are full-back, half-back and the back row of the pack.

Wing also requires some thought, because Kear does not expect to have Jason Robinson available. The Wigan winger is the subject of a long, drawn-out transfer to Sale rugby union club, and his loss can only be regarded as a serious blow.

Also on his way out of English rugby league is Leeds' Adrian Morley, who will join the Australian club, the Sydney Roosters, after the tournament.

"But I think that will spur him on in the World Cup. They've already started - as they do - knocking him in Australia, so this is his chance to show them what he can do on the world stage. He will also want to leave Britain on a high note."

When Kear was sacked from his club job, there were inevitable rumblings about his credentials at international level. "At Huddersfield, I was sacked because of results. There's no way they could do that at international level, because, in my two games in charge, we've beaten an improving French side with a depleted England team."

To have ditched Kear three months before the World Cup would have been to throw away the ground-work that he has done already. Yesterday's get-together was to mark a deal that will see England based at a Posthouse hotel for the duration of the tournament, a training camp in the United States has been arranged and many of the other building blocks are also in place.

"We have done a tremendous amount of planning and preparation. We are ready to start tomorrow. If we had a match against Australia tomorrow, we would be happy."

As Kear knows from his up-and-down experiences in club rugby - from Challenge Cup winner with Sheffield to down and out of work in little more than two years - it is not how happy you are before games that matters. It is how happy you are afterwards - but, with a great weight lifted off his own back, he promises a pleasant surprise or two before the end of November.

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