McNamara learns nothing new from beating the Exiles
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.
Monday 18 June 2012
It is debatable how much Steve McNamara really learned from his England team's victory over the best – or some of the best – of Super League's overseas players.
England defeated the Exiles 18-10 at St Helens and were never in serious danger of being beaten. In difficult conditions, however, the game was such a mess that it was impossible to draw many firm conclusions from it.
A monsoon deluge at Langtree Park made handling a challenge – and one to which neither side could consistently rise. All three England tries stemmed from a sound kicking game, while the home defence was equally solid.
These are the sorts of things that please coaches but hardly set pulses racing among paying customers. If many of the 11,000 crowd anticipated an International Origin match of a higher intensity than the average Super League game, let alone the State of Origin upon which it is loosely modelled, they will have been sadly disappointed.
The Exiles were not helped by a series of withdrawals from their original squad. When they dropped out, it was often hard to call up the ideal replacement, because a number of players not selected had opted for a mid-season holiday.
On top of that, Daniel Anderson's team lost its captain, Thomas Leuluai, carried off with a nasty ankle injury mid-way through the second half. With the half-back expected to be out of action for two months, his club Wigan could turn out to be the biggest losers from Saturday night.
As for the winners, Saints hooker James Roby was the obvious stand-out, asking a range of questions from dummy-half and making vital tackles. Eorl Crabtree was the most effective prop forward on show, while Sam Tomkins several times confirmed his ability to come up with the special and the unexpected – but we all knew that already.
McNamara was also pleased with the debut of Carl Ablett in the centres. His tackling was certainly up to the general standard but, like those around him, he had plenty of problems with the ball in his hands.
For him, though, it felt like a definite step up from playing for Leeds. "It was more intense," Ablett said. "It felt like a play-off game, with that war of attrition where you're playing for field position. It was a tough game out there, but with the conditions we couldn't get any rhythm into our play."
Both coaches promised a more expansive approach – weather permitting – in the second game of the series at Huddersfield on 4 July. McNamara would not be drawn on any personnel changes but there will surely be a lobby in favour of giving Danny Brough a run on his home ground.
Wales were beaten 28-16 by France in Wrexham, but a side with little top-flight experience emerged with a good deal of credit. Two tries from Warrington's Rhys Williams helped to keep them in touch, but the French, with two apiece from Cyril Stacul and Mathieu Griffi, always had the edge.
England: S Tomkins, J Charnley, C Ablett, R Atkins, R Hall, K Sinfield, R Chase, E Crabtree, J Roby, J Peacock (capt), G Hock, D Tickle, S O'Loughlin. Replacements: R Burrow, G Carvell, L Mossop, J Jones-Buchanan.
Tries: Hock, Tickle, Tomkins. Goals: Sinfield (3).
Exiles: S McDonnell, J Monaghan, I Soliola, D Millard, F Meli, T Leuluai, S Dureau, T Puletua, L Hohaia, J Lima, W Manu, T Waterhouse, D Fa'alogo. Replacements: D Faiumu, A Laffranchi, A Kaufusi, E Lauaki.
Tries: Meli, Millard. Goals: Dureau.
Referee: B Thaler.
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