England’s unconvincing display against France in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday did nothing to enhance their hopes of winning the tournament on home soil.
They won 34-6 to set up a semi-final against New Zealand at Wembley next Saturday, but the England coach, Steve McNamara, has warned they must improve drastically to have a chance of beating the Kiwis.
“It was a very, very scratchy performance, probably our worst so far,” McNamara said after the match in Wigan. “There have been positive things from our first three games, but we didn’t play with a fear of the opposition. No disrespect to France, but we are a better team when we do.”
England won largely on the strength of a burst of four tries split between their wingers, Ryan Hall and Josh Charnley, while full-back Sam Tomkins was voted man of the match.
Other areas of the team are still a worry, however, which made it surprising that Rob Burrow, the Leeds hooker and scrum-half, was left out of the 17, despite passing the required tests following a blow to the head in the group match against Fiji.
England’s lacklustre display went a long way towards changing the mind of the France coach, Richard Agar, about their prospects.
On Friday, he tipped them to win the trophy, but after Saturday’s match he relegated them to third favourites. “I still believe they can win it, but Australia and New Zealand are favourites,” he said.
France’s defeat concludes a dismal World Cup for them, in which they won only one game – and that by a single point over Papua New Guinea.
The question now is whether Agar will continue to combine the job with coaching Wakefield, who are enduring another winter of crisis, with players being sold.
Steve McCormack, whose 10 years with Scotland make him the longest-serving international coach, has admitted that he could be tempted by a return to a club job.
The former Salford coach, whose stock has soared following Scotland’s excellent performances in the World Cup, is being linked with a job in youth development at Wigan.
Billy Slater’s World Cup could be over, following a recurrence of his knee injury in the Kangaroos’ match against the United States at Wrexham on Saturday.
The 30-year-old Melbourne Storm full-back, twice voted the best player in the world, was helped off during the 62-0 victory. He has had scans, but the injury is still too swollen for an accurate diagnosis.
He has definitely been ruled out of the semi-finals and probably out of the final as well, should Australia get there. They do have a wealth of high-quality alternatives. Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne and Darius Boyd all play full-back for their clubs.