Hats off if you managed to watch that without falling asleep again, or without regular caffefine boosts, as England, who are still not firing on all cylinders, fought their way past Papua New Guinea to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
The only nation in the world where rugby league is the national sport, PNG put up a physical and spirited fight as expected, but skill level and quality wise they were second best, and that’s saying something given what was a never ending sequence of handling errors from England, who despite the frustration put seven tries on the board for a 36-6 victory.
A shame really, with the Wall of White going from the abysmal to the darn right sublime all in the course of eighty minutes. That’s the most frustrating aspect as there’s some class out there, but it’s the quantity in which it’s produced that could be the sides downfall. How they went into the sheds at half time 14-0 up despite completing just over half of their sets is anyone’s guess. There were basic errors too that hindered some good work, with the fair share of those coming from hooker Josh Hodgson, who was mediocre at best and on the evidence we’ve seen so far in this tournament not fit to lace James Roby’s boots.
England’s biggest positive was their right edge, with the combination of Kallum Watkins and Jermaine McGillvary excelling again. They’ve both been a shining light in the World Cup, and are both blessed with ability, and they exhibited said qualities again. They both crossed for two well-taken tries, with all four efforts set up by the other, which shows itself the prolific nature of the combination.
But as ever with our national team, the bad points seemed to outweigh the good. You can’t afford to cough up possession in that volume, and with all due respect to PNG, a team like Tonga, or certainty Australia, will punish you for it. England on that basis will struggle in Auckland against the Tongans next week, unless they tighten up and complete – something, and which is even more baffling, Wayne Bennett sides generally tend to do.
I’m not sure what that tells you, but it needs addressing. Bennett has set this team up to play one out and complete, but England, particular Hodgson, got caught out with some lazy forward passes, with errors coming both in and out of contact too. Poor concentration? Who knows, but it can’t continue.
It’s frustrating, as every so often, the shape, distribution and execution is bang on, take England’s second try for example, but unfortunately moments like that are too few and far between. Credit of course must go to the Kumuls, who made life tough and were full of effort and enthusiasm despite losing their best player David Mead after two minutes to injury. They got in the faces of their opposition and kept the game a contest, despite having two tries ruled out by the video official.
It was a tough start for England, with two McGillvary tries sandwiched between an error count that even Wembley legend Kieran Dixon would struggle to beat. The tourists had a mountain of possession, and quite easily could have doubled their half time score, but instead had one further try from impressive prop Alex Walmsley to showcase for their efforts.
Roby’s introduction after the break definitely inspired England, and it seems to be obvious to everyone except those of an East Hull residency and Bennett himself that the St Helens number nine should be starting from the off. His sublime offload played a part in the try of the match, with Gareth Widdop, who was solid again from fullback, picking out Ben Currie with a superb kick.
Papua New Guinea then got themselves on the board through Garry Lo, but England then striked again, and no surprises from their right edge, as McGillvary’s break was supported and polished off by Watkins, who after finishing his first, soon got his second with a terrific finish.
With the game tied up, and a semi-final place beckoning, Ryan Hall then got on the act, crossing over for England’s seventh and final try. Tonga up next. Should be a cracker.
England XIII: 1. Gareth Widdop, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Kallum Watkins, 4. John Bateman, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Kevin Brown, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. James Graham, 11. Sam Burgess, 12. Elliot Whitehead, 13. Sean O’Loughlin. Interchange: 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Thomas Burgess, 16. Ben Currie, 17. James Roby.
England Tries: McGillvary 2, Walmsley, Currie, Watkins 2, Hall. Goals: Widdop 4/7
Papua New Guinea Starting XIII: 1. David Mead, 2. Justin Olam, 3. Kato Orttio, 4. Nene McDonald, 5. Garry Lo, 6. Ase Boas, 7. Watson Boas, 8. Moses Meninga, 9. James Segayaro, 10. Luke Page, 11. Rhyse Martin, 12. Willie Miniga, 13. Paul Aiton. Interchange: 14. Kurt Baptiste, 15. Stargroth Amean. 16. Stanton Albert, 17. Rod Griffin.
Papua New Guinea Tries: Lo. Goals: Martin 1/1
Scoring System: 4-0, 8-0, 14-0, 20-0, 20-6, 26-6, 30-6, 36-6