England brush off Autumn Internationals Series criticism

By Matt NewsumBBC Sport

England were expected to dominate the Autumn International series,external-link and the team duly delivered with a trio of thumping victories.

Back-to-back wins over France, including a 48-4 triumph in Sunday's final, and an earlier victory over Wales ensured a successful finish to the season for Steve McNamara's side.

The end goal is next year's World Cup but with the might of Australia and New Zealand lying in wait, critics have questioned how useful this one-sided series has been for England, with former Great Britain skipper Garry Schofield saying it would do "more harm than good".

"I don't think Wales or France threw too much at England, not putting them under pressure as they would have liked to have done," Castleford boss Ian Millward told BBC Sport.

"England still have work to do on their attack if they are to be competitive and win the World Cup against Australia and New Zealand.

"Australia have a group of guys which play State of Origin together in the spine of the team. We have had a problem in England in getting consistency at six and seven and a coach who is still not sure about his combinations."

Regardless of pundits' views, the players are positive.

Captain Kevin Sinfield defended the competition, and Wigan full-back Sam Tomkins was in agreement.

"It's been a massive success, there's been some great structures put in place," Tomkins told BBC Sport.

"As a team we're getting that fluency that everyone wants from a national side.

"These three games were about us, no-one else, we're playing to our own standards and we're competing against ourselves."

While Australia and New Zealand opted to rest over the winter, England took their elite performance squad to South Africa for a training camp as a build-up for this series.

In addition the England Knights have played Ireland and Scotland as McNamara's fringe players looked to impress.

Leeds centre Kallum Watkinsexternal-link and Warrington's Chris Hill were given the opportunity to step up to the seniors, and the competitive fixtures have provided a useful introduction to international rugby league.

Hill, in particular, has emerged as a talent following his switch to the Halliwell-Jones from Championship side Leigh last season.

The 25-year-old earned a place in the Super League Dream Team for his domestic performances and made his England bow against Wales earlier in the series.

"It was really competitive, fair play to France they brought it to us [in the final]," Hill said.

"Playing for your country is the highest thing you can ever achieve and no matter who you're playing for England, when you pull that jersey on it's a real special moment."

England's success this term, and their improved performances in last year's Four Nations competition against their southern hemisphere rivals, offer optimism for the season to come.

There are comparisons to be made with other sports, according to the Rugby Football League's director of communications Niel Wood.

"In any other sport, England doing well would be regarded as a triumph," he said.

"It's a bit disingenous [the criticism], it underplays the effort that France and Wales put in, and the effort that England put in.

"They don't get to perform like that by accident, and the French and the Welsh have not turned up here to roll over.

"England beat Fiji in an equivalent game [in rugby union], and nobody is saying that was a poor game, everyone is saying it's a great game but there are harder challenges to come, and I think we were the same."

Meanwhile, McNamara will have the southern hemisphere players available for the World Cup, bringing key names such as Jack Reed, Gareth Widdop, Sam Burgess and James Graham into contention.

"Another good thing about this is that the 17 players we have used in every game are Super League-based players," McNamara said.

"This is a Super League England team and when you add the players from the NRL, it'll be tough to pick a team next year."

Although Catalan Dragons have proved their worth in Super League, the France side is currently short of providing a challenge to England as the northern hemisphere's World Cup hope, and although Wales received plenty of plaudits for their efforts they still lost both fixtures.

That keeps the pressure on McNamara and his players on home turf - the next 12 months will shape their fate as they hope to emulate England's trio of triumphs.

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