Well, if this final weekend showed fans of International Rugby League anything, it’s that if you’re not at the top of your game, you will get beaten.
After Friday night’s defeat of the French by the USA, on Saturday, England took on Italy.
From the moment Italy arrived pitch side, they looked cool (as you’d expect in Salford for autumn) well drilled and ready for a tough game.
Once Anthony Laffranchi scored a soft early try, and the ease with which hooker Dean Parata burrowed his way from dummy half for the visitors’ second must have given Steve McNamara a lot to think about ahead of facing the Australians on the 26th in Cardiff.
Even when the torrential thunder and lightning storm arrived, the Italians looked more at ease on the ball, offloading with ease and seemingly at will they often stretched the England defence and could easily have gone in at the 40 minute mark ahead of the hosts.
As it was, some uncharacteristic missed kicks from captain Sinfield allowed the score to look much better for both sets of players and fans at 14-12.
Once the second ½ was underway and the rain began to ease off, it became clear that despite the passion of the 4300 fans, neither side looked much like troubling the scoreboard until a penalty for the Azzurri in the 69th minute gave them the chance to draw level.
The game went to and fro for the next 9 minutes with knock on being the main call that referee Richard Silverwood had to make, until Josh Charnley gifted the Italians possession with just 90 seconds on the clock and allowed Mantellato a drop goal from 30 metres out which was slotted over to give the Italians a famous victory, one made all the sweeter for coach Carlo Napolitano, who was born & raised in Salford.
Magnanimous in defeat, England coach McNamara said “We’ve certainly not played anywhere near what we are capable of. That’s quite clear to see.”
“I just think our mentality was really wrong for this game. We were probably guilty of looking towards next week and we took our eye off this game. I don’t think we were fully focused. I’m glad it’s happened this week in a way rather than next week. I’m sure we will be a whole lot better for it next week.”
Steve, so do a lot of England fans. I’m certain you want the England job long term, but we need a more organised, gutsier display. OK, it was a warm up game, and you need to make certain that players like Tomkins don’t get injured, but we didn’t ever look like we were going to win.
Congratulations to the Italians. They were organised, disciplined and looked like they really wanted to beat England from minute one.
This next 4 weeks will have one or two upsets in the group stages, which makes for an interesting, if nervous, cup for everyone.