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New look England impress under McNamara

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George Riley George Riley | 15:01 UK time, Sunday, 13 November 2011

England's performance in demolishing world champions New Zealand was another powerful step in the right direction.

One big win does not necessarily enhance England's chances of toppling Australia in Saturday's final, but it has certainly proved just what this team of players is capable of.

This is the best England side I have seen in a long time, and regardless of the outcome at Elland Road, coach Steve McNamara will already feel justified in the controversial calls he has made.

Maori Rangi Chase dealt effectively with the special treatment he was always likely to receive from his Kiwi mates. McNamara told me the following morning that Chase produced his "most controlled performance for us so far".

His preferred half-back pairing of Chase and man-of-the-match Kevin Sinfield - traditionally a loose forward - must surely be winning over the doubters too.

I'm a massive Sinfield fan and am delighted to see the Rhinos skipper silencing his international critics. His kicking game against the Kiwis was hugely superior to that of Benji Marshall, who found the hands of Sam Tomkins more than he found clear grass.

Wigan full-back Tomkins, rewarded for staying loyal to league in the face of union overtures with a big-money new deal with the Warriors, recovered from an early howler to produce a sparkling display.

The KC Stadium buzzed every time the youngster had ball in hand, although you do wonder how different this game may have been had Keiran Foran's score from Tomkins's error not been disallowed for offside.

New Zealand born Rangi Chase has not looked out of place since pulling on an England jersey. Photo: Getty

Disliked by a lot of rival Super League fans for his perceived niggly style and petulance, this was another mature international display in the face of some ugly hits from the Kiwis. McNamara labelled him a "tough little bugger" for taking a succession of high shots with not so much as a grimace.

The understanding and cutting edge offered by the back three of Tomkins, Tom Briscoe and Ryan Hall is hugely encouraging too. All three weighed in with scores, Hall's another sensational touchline effort. He is fast becoming one of the best finishers in the game.

But what pleased me most about this England performance was its maturity and composure. "Efficient, controlled and effective" was McNamara's synopsis.

It took the best part of half an hour for the home side to touch down through Briscoe, but there was no panic. Sinfield's last-third kicking was far less effective than his positional kicking, but he too kept his head and reaped the rewards after half-time.

It was New Zealand rather than England who lost their cool. From the lofty commentary position at the KC Stadium (I think you can see the Great Wall of China from up there) I had to wait until I watched it back on television later to see the two incidents that so riled those who tweeted me during the game.

Jeremy Smith and Isaac Luke have both been put on report. Had the "report" option not been available to the match referee Matt Cecchin then both of them could have been heading for an early shower, with Luke especially fortunate that a horrible leg twist on Chase in the tackle was not spotted.

Dejected Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney admitted afterwards "England were very disciplined, we were the opposite". McNamara also called the Luke incident "very poor".

England's fitness struck me too, especially in the pack. While the Kiwis were blowing and beckoning to the bench for interchanges, the home front row was flying.

Jamie Peacock didn't train all week but produced another inspirational effort, James Graham overcame his injury to do the same. And it is testament to the 80-minute effort of Hull boy Jon Wilkin that England didn't miss Gareth Ellis.

McNamara tells me Ellis was very close to being available to play, and will be back in the reckoning for Elland Road, which would be unfortunate for the impressive Gareth Carvell.
Chase spent a long post-match stint in the New Zealand dressing room.

You could be forgiven for thinking he was either seeking the head of Luke or wanting to gloat. He was simply catching up with his old mates - no hard feelings after 80 minutes of blood and thunder in which the Kiwis did everything they could to wind him up.

One New Zealand journalist riled Marshall in the post-match press conference by asking what the mood was like in the dressing room. "Is that a serious question? What do you think?" he snapped, before replying sarcastically "yeah we're all stoked mate".

To see the man regarded as one of, if not the best stand-off in world rugby, so dejected and angry is perhaps the biggest pat on the back that you can give to England.

McNamara lost his rag a little afterwards too when asked if this success made up for the failings of last year's tour down under.The England coach accused journalists of deeming that unsuccessful tour a failure, while his view is that it was a vital stepping stone towards where they are 12 months down the line.

"Without that experience would we have had this one?" he asked. Without doubt England are becoming more battle-hardened, but we must appreciate that beating New Zealand and Australia down under is a completely different proposition to what the team is starting to achieve on home soil.

McNamara himself was up early on Sunday morning to do a live interview on 5 live Weekend Breakfast before 0730 GMT. Could you imagine Fabio Capello doing that to talk through his side's win over Spain?

McNamara texted me after the interview to say "we are getting some good national media coverage this year, even if it means me getting up this early!". To see our national coach willing to do this to help promote our game is terrific.

And so on to Leeds, and another crack at the Aussies In the final. No Billy Slater this time but Australia remain massive favourites. England have always been capable of the kind of performance that crushed the Kiwis, but they have never been able to back it up a week later. Now is the time.

I spoke to the Aussie coach Tim Sheens at half-time and asked who he would rather face in the final. He said England, but I'm not convinced he meant it.

Beating the world and defending Four Nations champions hasn't won England any silverware, but it has converted a lot of doubters into believers.


  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant performance from England, kept their compsure when New Zealand resorted to cheap and dirty tatics.

    I thought Sinfield was outstanding along with Roby, Graham and Tomkins so many man-of-the-match candidiates. Although with all the possesion England had they could/should have scored more. We need to turn that pressure into points when we play Australia.

  • Comment number 2.

    I cannot wait for the final!

  • Comment number 3.

    I am new to league, and last night was my first live game.
    The atmosphere in the stadium was great, and the game itself very exciting.
    As a union fan normally, it might please some for me to say that I find league faster and possibly more exciting (I'm trying to remain impartial!!)

    I loved watching Tomkins play, brilliant skills, sorry for maybe being ignorant but can someone expand on why he is often booed?

    Either way it's great to see such a talented team, and I shall begin persuading my friends to watch league more often. I'm now going to try and get tickets for next week, can't wait!

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was just about to give my opinion on Sam Tomkins but No 4 seems to have given enough reasons. Tomkins also likes to come in 3rd or 4th man too often & gives the referee earache over every decision so these things don't endear him to opposition fans. That said he's a great player & was outstanding again yesterday.

    Great win but England won't will next week unless they are more clinical as they won't get as many chances vs the Aussies.

  • Comment number 6.

    Good piece, George, although I've not been converted to Sinfield at 6. He really isn't a 6. His kicks in play were average to poor (although I was glad he came with his goal kicking boots on!), he relied upon the short pass when it just wasn't on, only Wilkin was able to make any use of it, and on two occasions he scuppered try scoring chances when we had the overlap. He missed a few tackles as well, but that probably has nothing to do with playing at 6! I'm sure Sinfield organised well, but I think Roby was more MoM than Sinfield, and both Graham and Westwood had very good games.

    In fact, I was very impressed by our pack. It lived up to its reputation. Hopefully they will be able to take that game to the Aussies on Saturday. Likewise, I hope Chase, Yeaman and Brisco can build on their obvious improvement in defence (I was still holding my breath when the Kiwis went that way even though they were better yesterday than at Wembley).

    We were certainly more composed than last week and again, we need to bring that game with us. Our completion rate was good and bar a few daft passes by Sinfield and a daft offload by Carvell, we were pretty impressive in that regard.

    The Aussies still have more attacking options close to their line but hopefully we won't let them get there. If we do then our goal line defence will need to be outstanding, and for the full 80. Tomkins still has work to do in this regard as he doesn't track well in defence, part of his job as fullback. But he is of course outstanding in attack and more of our players passed to him this week than at Wembley (when really only Wilkin drew him in).

    All in all, the England performance was a good one. It was certainly better than any I have seen, although I haven't yet been watching RL for a decade so my comparisons are not exactly in great supply (but I do remember how absolutely dire we were in 2008!). However, even though we played very well, we will have to improve still further to win the competition. And we've all been here before: secure a good win over the Kiwis only to fall at the final hurdle, and usually quite dramatically.

    Still, here's hoping!

  • Comment number 7.

    Good blog George, keep up the good work of spreading the gospel that is Rugby League.
    I personally thought England played very well and suffocated New Zealand throughout the game. The England forwards were very impressive and England now have a couple of potent attacking weapons in the back line in Hall and Tomkins.
    Next week will be the ultimate test against the Aussies but if we can keep in the arm wrestle for the first 30 minutes England will grow in confidence and who knows what could be achieved.

    Good luck to the lads and lets get this monkey off our backs, cos mine is getting very heavy.

  • Comment number 8.

    James Graham was very good yesterday too, fully agree.
    Who else would people prefer to see playing stand off instead of Sinfield, would Eastmond have been an option before joining Bath?
    Shame that post 4 was moderated, I thought it was a good response!

  • Comment number 9.

    George, why do you and so many other RL fans have such a chip on your shoulders? Why bring Capello into it? It's a completely nonsensical comparison. Capello has an absurd amount of media obligations to do prior to a match as well as absurdly long press conferences after them.

    Just enjoy the rugby and stop feeling a need to express how 'real' the people involved in the sport are with comparisons to a sport that is scrutinised to an absurd level. If people enjoy rugby league then great, and if not, well, that's their decision.

  • Comment number 10.

    Exactly right about bringing Capello into this. He missed his sons wedding to take charge of England yesterday..

  • Comment number 11.

    Not been much of a rugby league fan since the days of Radlinski and Robinson at Wigan but have watched most of the four nations this time. Some impressive England displays have made for some very entertaining viewing.

    Not just turning doubters into believers but getting the apathetic interested again. Hope for a cracking game and an England win next week!

  • Comment number 12.

    @ 9 - packersftw

    It's not about having a chip on shoulders. It is pointing out what has been lost to the game of soccer which RL still retains. RL is still very much in touch with the people. George is simply pointing out a fact and taking pride in it, which I think is fully justified. Should RL ever end up like soccer then this fan will be lost to it anyway!

  • Comment number 13.

    @ 12 - regardless, it's folly to compare the coach of the England rugby league team to the coach of the England football team. They're completely incomparable.

  • Comment number 14.

    Firstly the positives. England played well were threatening whenever they got near the line and but for some last ditch Kiwi defence could well have been home and dry after half time. The forward pack looked strong both in attack and defence, and the back line looked well drilled. Having a club partnership of Yeaman+Briscoe really seems to be proving it's worth both in attack and defence.
    On the negative side though we must turn pressure into points and against Australia last week and the Kiwis this week, we had a fantastic 20-30minutes and had very little to show for it. We have to improve this for next week.
    We have been here time and time again with England (or GB) RL and time and time again just when it looks like we are getting close to the Aussies we get thrashed by them, and I have that feeling in the back of my head that we still haven't seen Australia play that well yet in this tournament and they are due a performance. I just hope I'm wrong and England finally beat the Kangaroos when it matters in a major final!

  • Comment number 15.

    Well disciplined display from England against a lacklustre and undisciplined Kiwi side. I'm happy to see so many positive posts on here, how different it would have been if the talk had have been about Tomkins broken jaw by the assault from Smith or Chase's career threatening ruptured knee ligament from the attentions of Luke, the smile from Luke when being slapped on the wrist by the ref says much about the man. Keep playing with discipline and integrity England, leave the cheap and nasty side of our glorious game to others.

  • Comment number 16.

    @ 14 - Royalty

    I think the attack problem comes from not having a proper halfback partnership. Sinfield is ineffective or makes big mistakes - like his short passes when he should have gone behind the leading player (pretty basic stuff for halfbacks but Sinfield isn't a halfback). I think Widdop would create more in attack but McNamara is not going to change the halves now. He never was going to change the halves. In fact, I'm sure Widdop is wondering why he bothered flying over here! Yet I'm sure he could have offered far more in attack in the halves since that is where he has been playing for Melbourne.

  • Comment number 17.

    Another weekend for RL...sorry International RL. Maybe an England win might get the Aussies to think outside their own backyard.

    England have been a credit, great discipline, improving every game. I can't wait for the final. I was in Melb in '92, and won't believe we've won until I Clare Balding tells me !! Oh, speaking of which great...much improved coverage..keep it up.

    Watched Wales tonight...ok clear 2nd..but not 3rd. They were an absolute credit and have put wales RL on the map as an alternative sport in Wales to kick and grunt. Actually I take that back, at least Wales RU really try to play Rugby...shame they didn't join the revolution in 1895...still its not too late....!

    Consistency is key here, and Widopp is a very good bench warmer, gives us options. Sinfield is in form and you can't argue with that. Just make sure Hall is wrapped in cotton wool all week !!

    Pack out Elland Road and shout the world down...they have earnt and deserve our support...come on the boys !!!!!

    Key could be who is the ref....

    Great article...again.

  • Comment number 18.

    Sorry - meant to start by saying 'another GREAT weekend for RL'...been at the beer, needed a couple to calm the nerves when Wales scored the 2nd try !

  • Comment number 19.

    Excellent article as always. This England team have a good balance and glory be we actually look like we will score tries! We have a chance next week if we keep the focus we had yesterday. The real sign of the times for me was the reaction to their score. Namely no panic just kept playing the game they had been executing. Sinfield was excellent but so was Tomkins and so were the other 15.

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with parky. These so-called sportsmen seem content on trying to cause injuries. What I don't accept is that the referees never seem to be taken to task when they bottle it and putbit on report instead of sending the idiot off. That action only helps the next opponents when he is banned

  • Comment number 21.

    I've made this beef before but....can we please get rid of "on report". Use the replays and send them off. On report benefits not this opposition but next weeks! If the referee genuinely misses an incident but is later shown up on a replay then and only then should retro active punishment be meted out, if the decision is yellow and it should have been red then action can also be taken BUT crossing your arms over your head and passing the buck for violent/career threatening action is rubbish and threatens the respect officials rightly expect. Immediate action gains respect, sitting on the fence means that thugs prosper and skill and entertainment are the losers and ultimately so are the fans.

  • Comment number 22.

    The Kiwis were playing dirty even before they went behind, and the ref was far too weak in penalising them. They should have been down to 11 before half time. Constant swinging arms and the disgraceful attempt to injure Chase by Luke should have him suspended for several months. As mentioned, the fact he was grinning at the ref afterwards shows intent and he should be severely punished.

    Major positives from the game for England. They would have nilled NZ but for the error by Carvell, and if England can keep the discipline and passion against the Aussies, we will be in for a close and exciting final. I am looking forward to it!

  • Comment number 23.

    @ 21 - skeltim

    I totally agree with you. On report is a farce. The Kiwis knew they would get away with whatever and it brought out the worst in their more thuggish players. If dirty play was rewarded with a red card, dirty play would disappear.

  • Comment number 24.

    with the whole 'put it on report' thing, i reckon if something if serious enough to be put on report then it should come with an automatic yellow card... what do people think?

  • Comment number 25.


    I think your criticism of Sinfield is totally unjustified. As a Rhinos fan, I agree that I'd rather see him at loose forward than stand off, but on Saturday he was far superior to Benji Marshall who many rate as the best stand off in the World.

    OK, he threw one or two loose passes and a couple of his final third kicks could have been better, but he consistently kicked from open play better than both Chase and Marshall.

    He ran the game and was constantly creating opportunities for the likes of Roby, Chase and Tomkins to exploit, not only from first receiver but also from dummy half. He was solid in defence too, it was his hard (and totally legitimate) hit on Locke that effectively ended his threat in the game.

    I think he was thoroughly deserving of his Man of the Match award, although not to say that there weren't a good few other players who had a great game too.

    It makes me wonder what he'd have to do for you to concede that he had a good game! Maybe not beat you in the Grand Final? ;-)

  • Comment number 26.

    Good blog George, appreciate your spreading the word and love your RL updates on 5 Live that normally get overlooked by the main stream media.

    Great performance by England against what were some nasty and antagonistic tactics by the Kiwi's. Thought the lads did exceptionally well to just keep their cool and let their rugby do the talking. Hopefully we can continue that form into next week against the Aussie's, but as several people above have mentioned, England need to be more clinical when dominating possesion. Both against the Aussie's at Wembley and again this weekend, we had large periods of the game where we were comfortably on top, but just couldn't get the points on the board. I know this is partly down to great defense on the part of our opponents, but we've also been guilty of not finishing our chances when we've had them.

    Obvious exception to this would be the excellent Ryan Hall. I'm not a Rhino's fan and I haven't been a big Ryan Hall fan either, but the two tries he has scored in the corner in the previous two weeks have made me a convert, what a player.

    And finally we get to the officiating! I have been massively disappointed with the level and quality of the officiating throughout the tournament. From the terribly slow play the ball of the opening match, failing to use the video referee when available for the Briscoe try that never was at Wembley to the use of the "on report" get out clause of Saturday, the standard has been poor. Surely if the referee knows enough about an incident to tell the player why he is putting him on report, then he knows enough to make a proper decision and either issue a yellow or red card. Putting someone on report over the course of a league season may be fine and the RFL disceplinary panel is very swift to act, but in tournament rugby, the penalty for the type of play handed out by the Kiwi's on Saturday needs to be dealt out imediately or it is no penalty.

    Looking forward to a packed Elland Road on Saturday and maybe, just maybe a game for the ages!

  • Comment number 27.

    Great win - and we can push the Aussies and beat them if we don't make too many unforced errors. Great game potentially coming up (I'll be there).

    Shame this win against the world champions comes third (at best) in this weeks sports reports behind England beating Spain in a wendyball friendly and Hamilton winning a race in which Vettel retired at the second corner!

  • Comment number 28.

    Great game, NZ were lucky to finish with thirteen men on the field, not sure why players get put on report when they should be sent off; actually I do know!! England were very disciplined and focused which ultimately won them the game, they didn't panic when the Kiwis started to edge back in to the game. If they can keep their discipline against the Aussies and have enough fit forwards, we have every chance of wining, but there needs to be a good referee appointed to the game who is capable of snuffing out the dirty tricks.

  • Comment number 29.

    @25 - Mattie

    No need to be so defensive! Sinfield is never a 6 and he showed it against the Kiwis. Give me Widdop and Chase any day of the week. But that won't happen now anyway so you'll have Sinfield at 6 even though our attack so badly needs a proper 6.

  • Comment number 30.

    No surprise that George hasn't got involved.

  • Comment number 31.

    Another good performance from England, thanks in part I believe due to the consitancy in team selection. The forward pack absolutely bossed the kiwi pack shown quite clearly in the league express stats of meters made. Graham was immense considering he was a doubt throughout the week and thought Wilkin showed he may be of international standard despite some reservations from other posters (if Ellis is fit it maybe worth him coming in at the expense of Heighington as a sign that Mcnamara will pick the players on form).
    People querying the selection of Sinfield at 6 obviously havent noticed which position he has been playing in for Leeds! He is there as a controlling half back organising attacking moves to allow players like Tomkins and Chase the freedom to explode into space. He also is an exceptional goal kicker and a decent kicker in open play. I agree it seems peculiar to have Widdop on the bench for 75mins but with the team going so well maybe the coach didnt want to disrupt things.
    I thought Chase and Tomkins handled the extra treatment from the Kiwis quite well and other than some push and shove didnt get drawn into the silly antics.

    This weekend is obviously the biggest test. We have seen in 07 GB beat NZ 3-0 and a new era was born with Pryce and Burrow, only to be embarassed in the world cup 2008. Then the next dawn when we reached the 09 final with Burgess leading from the front and Eastmond and Tomkins in the halves sadly again this did not materialise the following year down under. But I really believe we are starting to develop the talent base to challenge the aussies and kiwis on a more frequent basis based on the number of up and coming youngsters not even involved in the squad. Previously if we had suffered injuries we would look short of other options but now if we suffered an injury in the backs we would have various options i.e Jones Bishop, Hardaker, Cudjoe, Charnley, McGillvary, Watkins, Lomax, Welham, Ratchford etc etc Yes these are young players but finally it seems the super league teams are having the confidence and commitment to these players that has seen them feature on a regular basis which gives them the opportunity to develop.

  • Comment number 32.

    Sorry what did i miss? I thought the rugby internationals finished a few weeks ago with the world cup

  • Comment number 33.


    > Sinfield is never a 6 and he showed it against the Kiwis.

    Were we watching the same game?! He played Marshall off the park, and was a lot better than Chase (as he has been in every game except the warm up game against France).

    > you'll have Sinfield at 6 even though our attack so badly needs a proper 6.

    He was involved in setting up 3 of England's 4 tries. What do you want from a stand off? Special magic powers so he can Jedi mind trick his way through a defence?!

    It's not about being defensive, I just don't see where he's failing as a stand off. Yeah, he gave one loose pass when he was trying to play someone through for a try, but Tomkins, Carvell and Graham all made handling errors too, I don't see you arguing that they aren't up to the job.

    That was sport? Really?? I thought it was a bunch of fat posh blokes jumping on each other's necks! ;-)

  • Comment number 34.

    @ Mattie

    Sinfield should be on the pitch because he was clearly chosen to play general. That's fine. But he is too slow for a 6, his choices of last ball play were poor or wrong (Reed rescued one kick remember by reaching it and batting it back to Westwood - that kick was way too short of the line) and he isn't creative. A 6 should be a free runner which, of course, is what Chase is but Chase has been asked to play out of position in his first ever international series, which is a massive ask and I think he is doing a fine job. He had his best game of the series so far on Saturday. But because Chase has to reign himself in so as to play his part and Sinfield is so obviously not a 6, we look poor in attack on our line. It's something we just have to make do with this season. Hopefully by the World Cup we will have a natural halfback partnership available to us.

  • Comment number 35.

    OK, I'll stop trying to convince you of this, as it's never going to happen! ;-)

    I agree that he is not the sort of free running stand off you clearly want to see, he is not a McGuire or a Pryce and never will be. That said, I don't agree that a stand off must be that sort of player, and neither do McNamara or McDermott who know a lot more about the game than me or you.

    Saying he's not creative is absolute rubbish, it's akin to saying that Lionel Messi's got no skill. Creativity is exactly what he brings to stand off, which is why he's playing there.

    I think when you have to resort to criticising him for putting a kick right on top of Jack Reed that we then scored from, you're clutching at straws! As the kick went up, I actually agreed with you and thought he hadn't put it deep enough, but it was absolutely perfect for Jack Reed, and had it been deeper it would have been much harder for Reed to catch it, demonstrating that Sinfield knows a lot more about kicking than me or you.

    The guy captained a championship winning side and put in a MotM performance against the World Champions from stand off, what more can he do?!

  • Comment number 36.

    Roby, Graham and Westwood were immense on Saturday night. Roby made 45 tackles and didn't miss a single one and Graham made 175m; amazing efforts against a very physical Kiwi side. I've been at all three games so far (will miss the final due to work commitments!) and thoroughly enjoyed each game. Here's hoping we beat the Aussies and end a few years of hurt at Elland Road on Saturday night. C'mon England!

  • Comment number 37.

    Cyanmoon, this is the code where we can actually beat NZ, and do so playing rugby with a little style as well as steel. Try tuning in instead of taking the p1ss. You might actually enjoy it more

  • Comment number 38.

    Cyanpoo, ha great comment....very funny really made me laugh !!

    Do people really still enjoy watching scrums being reset 100 times, 'touch pause trump engage...penalty' - what for? who knows ??? Comes to something when our scrums show are the way forward !!

    Yours is the sport where someone with the skills of SBW is left on the bench. Real Rugby ha - your just a'll follow whatever rubbish is thrown up. Can't wait for when someone in RU (more likely a TV company who'll dictate the ball should be inplay more) decides there'll be more space with 13 players. Genius - follow us blinkered one.

    If the England/Aus game had been an RU game the DVD would have been received at the palace, the teams knighted and we'd be treated to re runs of the trys on a Question of Sport !

    Right...back to Saturday.....COME ON THE BOYS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 39.

    Due to a recent dose of unemployment, I won't be able to make it to Leeds as the funds are low (although I did manage Warrington, Leigh and Wembley, so I've provided some support in person!). But I will be tuning in to Sky at my folks' place while cat sitting for the night and hope I will witness a new dawn in rugby league rather than yet another tragedy!

    Come on England; stuff the Aussies!


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