Smith puts faith in Bridge for tough Kiwi test
Saturday 07 November 2009
It is time for the unlikely lads to come to the aid of the party at Huddersfield this evening. If England are to beat New Zealand and progress into the final of the Four Nations next weekend, they need special performances from players who, at different stages, seemed unlikely to be involved in this sort of occasion.
The issue for Chris Bridge, selected in the problem right centre position, has never been lack of ability. The England coach, Tony Smith, had him at Huddersfield almost a decade ago, Although it was too early for him to command a first-team place, Smith remembers him as "the biggest talent in the place. Then we were relegated and had to release him to Bradford, where he didn't achieve what he should have done."
Part of the reason for that was a talent for getting into trouble off the pitch, including a conviction for obstructing the police.
Bridge has not entirely left those habits behind. He was arrested, but not charged after a fight outside a nightclub this season, a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He's been prone to going off the rails from time to time, but he's shown no sign of that lately," Smith says, arguing that Bridge has finally become serious about his rugby.
At the same time, he has ended his dalliance with Ireland, for whom he qualified through his grandfather, in favour of playing for England. Bridge scored the points against Lebanon that took Ireland to last year's World Cup, although he was prevented from joining them by a ruptured Achilles.
He now has the look of a player intent on making up for lost time, although it is asking a lot for him to step up to the level required tonight.
The same applies to Hull KR winger Peter Fox, who shares with Bridge the experience of being rejected by his first senior club, in his case Leeds, before rebuilding his career with lowly York.
Smith has also taken the bold step of pairing two 20-year-old half-backs. He knows that his forwards will do a job, especially in the mud at the Galpharm Stadium, but much depends on what Kyle Eastmond and Sam Tomkins can do behind them.
New Zealand's Stephen Kearney has shown his own faith in youth by including 19-year-old Kieran Foran for his debut at centre, ahead of more experienced options.
Bobbie Goulding has his swine flu victims – Clint Greenshields, Dimitri Pelo and Sebastien Raguin – back in his French side for the daunting task against Australia in Paris. The Kangaroos, already in the final barring a catastrophe at the Charlety Stadium, could be a confusing proposition, with the identical twins, Josh and Brett Morris, on the same side of the field.
Wales can take a major step forward in their rugby league renaissance tomorrow by beating Scotland to win the European Cup. Thriving under the coaching of Iestyn Harris, the Welsh were impressive in beating Ireland last week, while Scotland beat Lebanon.
The two defeated nations face each other for third place, also at Bridgend, but the other game, between Italy and Serbia, has been switched to Maesteg.
England squad: S Briscoe, P Fox, C Bridge, M Shenton, R Hall, S Tomkins, K Eastmond, A Morley, J Roby, J Graham, J Peacock (capt), G Ellis, K Sinfield, E Crabtree, S Burgess, B Westwood, J Wilkin
New Zealand squad: L Hohaia, S Perrett, J Sau, K Foran, B Goodwin, B Marshall (capt), N Fien, F-P Nuuausala, T Leuluai, F Moimoi, I Soliola, F Pritchard, A Blair, I Luke, J Lima, B Matulino, J Waerea-Hargreaves
Referee: S Hayne (Australia)
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