England’s performance against Australia was better than I expected, and there are many positives that can be drawn from the game. But I feel that Saturday’s result will still go down as a missed opportunity.
Instead of getting the easier side of the draw and a semi-final against the fourth-ranked nation in the competition, England’s defeat to the Kangaroos mean they will more than likely play New Zealand in the semi-final.
Therefore, our chances of making the final have gone from 100 per cent, had we beaten Australia, to around 50 per cent now we have to play the Kiwis.
The game was lost midway through the first half when some of the outstanding performers of the first quarter were withdrawn from the field. They weren’t replaced by players who could step into their boots, and that caused a big drop in our performance level.
There are two things we need to look at here.
This formulaic interchange plan which has become part of the modern game is shown up for what it is in situations like this.
Forwards shouldn’t be taken off after 20 minutes when they are playing well just because it’s part of the pre-match plan. The coach should adapt to what he sees on the field.
George Burgess and Chris Hill were causing the Australians so many problems in their first game against the green and golds, but we caused just as many problems for ourselves by withdrawing them.
Secondly, the decision to overlook James Graham was one that ended up backfiring quite badly, because he is a prop who could have come onto the field and continued the good work that was being done by Burgess and Hill.
Although, being one of the best props in the world, and an ever-present in the World XIII over the last five years, Graham would have probably been down to start.
At least, though, it’s great that we can still call on him for the rest of the tournament.
But, looking at the positives, we started the game spectacularly. Although we chucked it away in the closing moments of the first half, we have at least given ourselves something to build on.
It was great to see us moving the ball confidently in our own half and it was just as pleasing to see the English lads confident enough to run a kickable penalty which led to Ryan Hall scoring.
And I was delighted to see Kevin Sinfield play so well at hooker when he moved there. I’d like to see that happen in every game from now on, because he is a magnificent dummy half.
We bossed that first quarter much more impressively than the scoreline of 10-0 indicated, and it was hard not to be filled with massive optimism at that point.
But, in the end, the truth is that Australia came back at us without getting out of third gear and they beat us despite only playing well for about 20 minutes.
Perhaps this means they are a very beatable side who we shouldn’t be afraid of, or perhaps it means they’re aiming to peak at the end of the tournament, unlike in 2008.
Unfortunately, I think it’s the latter, and I feel that if we are to meet them again, we might not find ourselves scoring the first couple of tries.
That was our big chance to all but seal our place in the final, and we blew it.
Hats off to the Rugby Football League and the World Cup organisers for staging such a sensational opening ceremony.
The atmosphere in the stadium was absolutely electric and the crowd looked a lot bigger than it actually was.
Despite the England result, it was as good an opening day as you could have hoped for and hopefully that points to the fact that we’re in for a successful competition.
Wales v Italy was an excellent game too, and the fact that every nation has got at least a handful of excellent players is extremely heartwarming.
I’m off up to Workington on Tuesday and ticket sales appear to be going very well for the games up there.
Scotland v Tonga should be an absolute bell-ringer of a game and I’m very much hoping that Danny Brough’s boys will get their World Cup off to a flier.
Tonga might have some good forwards and outside backs, but Scotland have a better halfback pairing that England in Danny and Peter Wallace from Brisbane Broncos, and that will count for a lot.
If you’re still wondering whether to get to any of the games or not, then get your tickets now.
I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this World Cup for years!
First published in League Express, Monday 28th October 2013