Players sprinkle the stardust

Peter Corrigan is pleased that the match outstripped the efforts of Diana Ross
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The Independent Online
RUGBY LEAGUE'S exhibition of its small but ruggedly attractive world opened with a start more rousing than any of them had a right to expect. It was not so much the unexpected, but thoroughly deserved England win, but the way it was almost stage-managed to bring from Wembley's 41,000 a brilliant impression of a capacity crowd.

As an attempt to scatter a handful of stardust over the game's dark and troubled background, it was not getting far during a first half in which the tackling was awesome but the moments of inspiration meagre. This is the most searching, most meaningful examination of their game in 100 years, and the responsibility of honouring a century of heroes seemed to hang heavy on the players of both sides. But in the second half England managed to drag a performance of considerable value and excitement to produce a result that sets the World Cup alight.

It was always going to be up to the players to give us the sense of occasion and to add promise to the games that will follow. The league's attempt to invest the grey afternoon with glamour was not an unqualified success.

The girl from the Boddingtons ads not being available, the American singing star Diana Ross was the centrepiece of the pre-match entertainment, and she bounded out of a Rolls-Royce and straight into the middle of the pitch singing the words "in the middle of a chain reaction". You and the rugby league both, sister. The two codes have experienced nothing but a chain reaction over the past astounding six months and there is no sign of an end to the stunning changes.

None of them could have been envisaged when they planned to make this the biggest of all World Cups in the 41 years since the league code introduced it. So much therefore rested on the teams involved. A low-key tournament would not only have provided an embarrassing contrast with rugby union's version in South Africa, but would have presented a dismal picture of a game that now has to compete for attention like never before.

Let no one doubt the importance of the next three weeks before, presumably, these two teams meet in the final back at Wembley. But all such presumptions can now be put aside after England's opening victory against the odds- on favourites.

In a reflective moment afterwards, the excellent England skipper Shaun Edwards explained: "Rugby league is a game in which you feel you use the gifts God gave you." I'm not sure God would have owned up to the authorship of some of the tackling, but then he did say "Fight the good fight with all your might".

The stars of the England side were, appropriately, two of the youngest on the park. The man of the match, Andy Farrell, scored the crucial try that pegged back what looked to be a rampant Australian side just before the interval. Kris Radlinski, making his debut at 19, with the slimmest of first-class experience behind him, was a revelation at full-back. He did miss one towering kick in the second half to let in Mark Coyne, but he more than atoned for that by his later play. With Martin Offiah and Gary Connolly to come back into the side, Radlinski may not keep his place, but he will remember the day when he performed more creditably than his opposite number, Tim Brasher, whose first-half misjudgement of a kick from the England captain, Shaun Edwards, led to Farrell's try.

One feature of the game that will not escape attention was the black and white kit of the officials, which gave rise to speculation that Newcastle United have now diversified into the rugby league referees' business too.

Skerrett's mission, page 27