England got their first win of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup with a 29-10 victory over Lebanon – but to say it flattered to deceive would be a massive understatement.
The games major talking point was an incident between Jermaine McGillvary and Robbie Farah, where the former, on replay at least, looked to have bitten the latter. Must have seen those KFC chips and gravy adverts one too many times.
Jokes aside, the incident was placed on report by English referee Ben Thaler, something which made a mockery of the contest itself. Why was an Englishmen refereeing England in a World Cup game? He made some costly mistakes from a Lebanese point of view as well, not to mention decisions that showcased his bias towards England.
Whether or not though McGillvary will be dealt with post-match remains to be seen. Farah seemed to latch his forearm into him, and with a gumshield in I’m sure the task of sinking your teeth into someone would be quite difficult. “You don’t bite. What’s on my arm? Did I bite myself did I?”, Farah said in the heat of the moment, which could be clearly heard on the live coverage, and which prompted a minor scuffle at the start of the second half.
England before that were largely unconvincing. Their main threat was from loose forward Sean O’Loughlin, with the wingers, both Ryan Hall, and McGillvary, impressing on occasion. O’Loughlin though was outstanding. His shape was superb as he brought the ball forward and distributed to those outside of him. Shame his team-mates weren’t as switched on.
Half back wise England were poor. Gareth Widdop had his moments, but Luke Gale was largely anonymous yet again. On the evidence we’ve seen he’s not good enough for international rugby. He failed to take the line on and was the recipient of some criticism from the Aussie pundits on Premier Sports, and rightly so. He’s been missing since Old Trafford now.
Lebanon meanwhile fielded a side containing eleven NRL players, and coached by legendary Aussie test star Brad Flittler, they were a niggly and resilient outfit throughout. They had some stars amongst their ranks too. Tim Mannah is a solid NRL forward and young Eels prodigy Mitchell Moses at half back will be a sensation for years to come.
Question marks still reside on England and especially selection. Club bias aside, the evidence we’ve seen over two games is coming to fruition. Why is Scott Taylor missing out for a 35-year-old Australian-born Aussie with an Aussie accent? Why is a back row playing in the centre? You could go on and on. The fact the biggest threat is an aging loose man tells you everything.
To the game itself England had most of the early possession, but it took four back to back sets on the Lebanese line before they struck, with Kallum Watkins finding some space out wide to get the opening try. That pretty much summed up their attack – the fact that it took four back to back sets to score. It’s not fluent and not clinical to say the least, and with Gale amongst the ranks, it won’t get much better.
Lebanon then levelled through Nick Kassis, but England hit the front again soon after. McGillvary scored for the second successive game, before Hall dubiously grounded a third, despite replays indicating he lost the ball. Ben Currie then gained a fourth try from one of few good moments from Josh Hodgson, as the scoreline flattered Bennett’s side at half time.
The second half was a snooze fest. Played at an empty Allianz Stadium in Sydney, rain poured down for the large majority. The locals, supporting Lebanon, were not happy with Thaler to say the least. McGillvary incident aside he did seem to favour his natives, with fortunate penalties going England’s way.
Lebanon defended well throughout and made the second forty a contest, but eventually they cracked as Tom Burgess broke through off a James Graham pass, and then stepped his way to the line for a fine try – much to the delight of his brothers in the stands. Roll on Slammin Sam’s return..
In response the Cedars crossed for their second try as Jason Wehbe squeezed himself over the line. McGillvary then had one disallowed, before Widdop landed a drop goal in the games final minute.
England Starting XIII: 21. Stefan Ratchford, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Kallum Watkins, 4. John Bateman, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. James Graham, 11. Ben Currie, 12. Elliot Whitehead, 13. Sean O’Loughlin. Interchange: 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Thomas Burgess, 18. George Williams.
England Tries: Watkins, McGillvary, Hall, Currie, Burgess. Goals: Widdop 4/5. Drop Goal: Widdop.
Lebanon Starting XIII: 1. Daniel Abou-Sleiman, 2. Travis Robinson, 3. Bilal Maarbani, 4. Adam Doueihi, 5. Abbas Miski, 6. Mitchell Moses, 7. Robbie Farah, 8. Tim Mannah, 9. Michael Lichaa, 10. Alex Twal, 11. Chris Saah, 12. Ahmed Ellaz, 13. Nick Kassis. Interchange: 14. Mitchell Mamary, 15. Ray Moujali, 16. Jamie Clark, 17. Jason Wehbe.
Lebanon Tries: Kassis, Wehbe. Goals: Moses 1/2