England’s progress into the World Cup quarter-finals might look a formality, but they are preparing themselves for a searching physical test from Fiji in their final group game in Hull this afternoon.
With the top three teams in Group A qualifying for the knockout stage, only the unthinkable upset of Ireland beating Australia by a big score in Limerick can deny either England or Fiji a place in the last eight. That will not happen, but neither team at the KC Stadium today wants to limp into the quarters on the back of a defeat.
The England coach, Steve McNamara, has said repeatedly that he is not a believer in giving everyone in his squad a game, so today’s line-up must be what he thinks is his best team. In that case, there are some intriguing selections and omissions.
James Roby started the World Cup as the automatic choice at hooker. Today, however, Wigan’s Michael McIlorum gets the nod, because he is seen as the more combative player. Also significant is the preference, for the second week running, for Tom Briscoe on the right wing rather than Josh Charnley, even though the Wigan man would have the edge based on this season’s form.
Meanwhile, Warrington stand-off Lee Briers has announced his retirement with immediate effect at the age of 35.
The former Wales international, who is the Wolves’ record points-scorer, was under contract with his club for 2014 but has been forced on medical advice to hang up his boots due to a neck injury.
“I feel privileged to have played for so long,” Briers said.