Warm up games are wonderful in theory but in practice can sometimes come back to bite you on the backside.
Steve McNamara and his England team must be ruing the fact that on Saturday they approached the game as part of their preparation for the World Cup, rather than a game in which the result really mattered.
Italy did the reverse and treated it as a true Test, and the scenes of unbridled joy at the end of the game at Salford on Saturday couldn’t help but raise a smile, even if you were an England fan disappointed by the show put on by your side.
McNamara has produced what should be the best prepared international team in Rugby League history, so the way it apparently had little answer to Italy’s well-drilled defence was worrying. This weekend he faces his biggest coaching test, for by 4.00pm on Saturday we will know whether his policy of creating a strong group of players rather than perhaps picking those in the best form has worked.
We sincerely hope he will prove he has taken the right course. What an important week lies ahead for him and his team!
If anything, Saturday’s defeat has made this Saturday’s clash with Australia more compelling. England supporters can certainly play their part in Cardiff. This is after all a true Test against Australia, which should fire the England team and fans alike. The players will need a loud and passionate support to take them home. Those of us old enough to remember England’s win over the Aussies at Wembley in the first game of the 1995 tournament wouldn’t want to miss out on an experience like that.
For the wider game of Rugby League it could be argued that Italy’s 15-14 victory on Saturday was a good one. Just how deep an impression the result makes in Italy itself will be interesting to monitor, but Italian coach Carlo Napolitano was keen after the game to emphasise the structural progress of the Federazione Italiana Rugby League. FIRL President Orazio D’Arro hailed the result as ‘a great moment for the game in Italy’. But it doesn’t end there.
On Saturday, Lebanon began their build-up for the next World Cup by playing and beating an Australian-based Fijian side. Rugby League teams planning for four years ahead. That’s something we haven’t heard of before.
And in Toulouse on Friday night, the USA Tomahawks won a historic 22-18 victory against France. The Rugby League World Cup 2013 has already thrown up plenty of romance.
And it hasn’t even started yet!
See you in Cardiff on Saturday.
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