McNamara dismisses charges of 'panic' as England face D-Day

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The Independent Online

Steve McNamara would not countenance the D-word yesterday as he announced his England team to play Australia.

That's D for disarray and it was a term circulating freely among the Australian media after he confirmed 11 changes – seven of them positional – from the line-up that lost to New Zealand in their previous Four Nations match.

Another term he did not want to hear was "pressing the panic button," saying: "Nothing of the sort. We've picked the team that we think is best equipped to win the match and we're pretty comfortable with what we've got out there. The three new caps are ready to play. It's the right time for them and the right time for England."

While Shaun Lunt and Ben Harrison will make their Test entrances via the bench, Huddersfield's Leroy Cudjoe will be on the field from the start, in a centre role where he has rarely been listed by the Giants. "He is a very excited young man and the way he has applied himself has been great. We will see him on the international scene for many years to come," McNamara said. "Although he has not often been named at centre by Huddersfield, he has often played there during matches."

The 22-year-old Cudjoe is a direct replacement for Michael Shenton, whose tour has been ended by ankle ligament damage. Gareth Widdop moved to that position during the defeat by the Kiwis, but McNamara denied rumours that the Melbourne-based player had refused to play centre. "I don't know where that has come from," he said.

The other key issues in the England coach's reshuffle include switching Sam Tomkins to his Wigan position of full-back, his team-mate, Sean O'Loughlin, to stand-off and Sam Burgess to prop.

McNamara said that the object of the exercise with Tomkins was to give him more freedom "to roll around the field a bit more," while O'Loughlin is expected to tighten up the defence, improve the kicking and give the side some attacking thrust down the short side.

Another important issue is how players like Ben Westwood, Luke Robinson and Joel Tomkins will fare now they have earned starting positions.

The Australian coach, Tim Sheens, called it a better England team than the one that lost to New Zealand. "Sam Burgess will get more ball at prop and the more ball he and the full-back get, the more worried I'll be," Sheens said.

His captain, Darren Lockyer, agreed that England looked a lot more dangerous with this rejigged line-up, "It's a lot stronger England team," he said. "They need to win to stay in the tournament, so they're going to be desperate and we'll be up against a very committed team."

McNamara denied that the pressure of needing to win to keep their tournament alive was getting to his young squad. "They are going about it with a smile on their faces," he said. "They are enjoying practice and they are enjoying Melbourne."

They might enjoy it a little less tomorrow, when thunderstorms are predicted for the AAMI Stadium after a fine week of perfect weather for training. Sheens believes that bad conditions could be a factor, as they were in his side's first outing against Papua New Guinea at Parramatta.

Despite criticism of that performance this week, Sheens has stuck with the same team, with Dean Young and Darius Boyd added to the possible substitutes. "We could have scored more points, but you had to be out there to appreciate the conditions," he said.

PNG earned plenty of praise for their wholehearted effort against Australia, despite their 42 point defeat, but it is asking too much to expect them to do England a favour by beating New Zealand today in Rotorua, where their coach, Stanley Gene, brings in three new forwards, Jason Nightingale, Johnson Kuike and Hunslet's Charlie Wabo.

The best that can be hoped for is that they keep the Kiwis' points difference down, but unless England can beat Australia that will be largely academic.

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