Young guns can fly against Kiwis

 

Games do not come much bigger for the national side than today's tussle with New Zealand at Hull.

Win it and the season will end with a week of optimism – even if that optimism turns out to be mislaid when they face Australia in the Four Nations final next weekend. Lose it and it will be the same old story – and England will still be ranked third in the world.

There have been good signs in this tournament, not least in the defeat by Australia at Wembley last week. Individual mistakes – from players and officials – cost them the game but it was refreshing to see an England side so eager to take on their opposite numbers with adventurous attacking rugby.

One of the main reasons for that was the confidence growing between the side's back three. Ryan Hall took most of the plaudits with two immaculately taken tries on the right wing, but paid tribute to Sam Tomkins at full-back and Tom Briscoe on the opposite flank.

"We do work together quite a lot in training, because we have to work with each other in a match," said Hall, the Leeds wingman who, at 23, is the oldest of the trio.

Tomkins is 22 and Briscoe, who plays at his home ground tonight, still only 21. "I think it's good that we're all young guys who have more or less come through together," said Hall.

Hall has swapped wings from his usual position at Leeds, but unlike some wingers has no strong preference. What was impressive about him at Wembley was the sheer power with which he took his chances. Whoever the Kiwis line up against him, there is no danger of him being outmuscled.

Tomkins was often brilliant against the Kangaroos, whilst Briscoe had more of a mixed afternoon. Tonight, he has the benefit not only of his home crowd but also of his club centre, Kirk Yeaman, alongside him.

"It has to be an advantage," he said. "We've played together so much that we know each other's games inside out."

The signs are that England's four injured forwards – Jamie Peacock, James Graham, Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington – will all be fit. Their coach, Steve McNamara, is likely to resist any temptation to tinker elsewhere in the team and England could field an unchanged team for an unprecedented fourth game in a row. The Kiwis' Stephen Kearney is waiting for his prop, Fuifui Moimoi, to prove his fitness after an ankle injury at Wembley.

Much has been made of the Hull factor that could work in England's favour, but Kearney has local connections as well. He played for the Kiwis in the farewell match at The Boulevard in 2004 and played the following season for Hull. "My 10 months taught me how passionate Hull people are and how they love the game," he said. "I know exactly what to expect."

Lee Briers is retiring from international rugby after Wales' game against Australia tomorrow. The Aussies are giving Test debuts to Beau Scott, Corey Parker and Daly Cherry-Evans in the match at Wrexham, which, it was announced yesterday, will be home to a new North Wales Crusaders side in Championship 1 next season.

England (probable): Tomkins; Hall, Reed, Yeaman, Briscoe; Sinfield, Chase; Graham, Roby, Peacock, Ellis, Westwood, Heighington. Substitutes: Widdop, Morley, Jones-Buchanan, Wilkin.

New Zealand (probable): Locke; Beale, Brown, Mannering, Nightingale; Marshall, Foran; Matulino, Leuluai, Packer, Blair, Manu, Smith. Substitutes: Luke, Wharea-Hargreaves, Moimoi, Glenn.

Referee: M Cecchin (Australia).

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