Wembley, the “Big Hit” 23/11/13 & Where do England go from here?

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So, after a 200 mile drive, a two mile walk to the stadium, what felt like another mile up to the complimentary, but cheap seats in the gods, it was time to say goodbye to two more of the teams at Rugby League World Cup 2013.

Today would decide who would contest the final itself at Old Trafford. New Zealand would take on England, and Australia would try to best Fiji in back to back games at one stadium.

From the off, England seemed to look to take the game to the Kiwis, and indeed, took the lead through a Sean O’Loughlin try, converted by Sinfield who also added a penalty mid-way through the first 40, but the Kiwis struck back, thanks to a miracle flick pass from Dean Whare which allowed the man who for me was man of the match, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score. Again, it was a penalty that allowed the Kiwis to draw level at eight a piece going into the break and indeed Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was fortunate to avoid being put on report for a swinging arm to a prone Sam Burgess.

The second 40 started in much the same vein, with England defending set after set. And New Zealand were quick out of the blocks in the second half, Hall’s missed interception opportunity allowed Tuivasa-Sheck to score his second try of the game.

Wembley from the Gods

Wembley from the Gods

As Tomkins waited underneath a high ball, Gareth Widdop was penalised for obstruction, to give New Zealand another penalty in front of the posts, which Johnson opted to kick, giving the Kiwis a six-point lead. However, England started to gather momentum, and a fresh set of six was enough to close the gap. Sinfield found Leeds Rhinos team mate Watkins who went over, with Sinfield unable to level the scores with his conversion attempt, something that would come back to haunt England. Hall might have put England ahead again after he came up with the ball following a scrappy period of play with 15 minutes left but the Leeds winger slipped as he ran towards the line. When England went into the lead thanks to Sam Burgess with 15 minutes left on the clock, the England fans in the crowd began to finally hope that they would get to see the lads in one more game at Old Trafford.

Some sloppy defensive kicking gifted New Zealand possession and then a penalty allowed then to run at our defence and with some superb ball handling skills, find a gap in the defence and slip over for the winning try.

So, it’s (hopefully) farewell to the most negative period of coaching England (or indeed Great Britain) has had to put up with in a VERY long time. McNamara is no coaching genius, that is certain, but whomever is responsible for deciding to start playing the game in a Rugby Union style and kick every penalty needs shooting. It’s a negative tactic that the game can easily do without. It basically says to the opposition, “We don’t think we can cross your try line, so we’ll play it safe, and hope to get a penalty in your 20m zone”. The aim of Rugby League is simple. Score tries. They are worth 4 points and win you games.

OK, it keeps the scoreboard ticking over, but it stagnates the rest of the game. How can we have a flowing, exciting and expansive game of rugby league if all the coach has said is if you get into their half and can get a penalty, kick it, don’t run the ball? The simple answer is we can’t. It’s a worrying trend that is creeping into the game at all levels. Take the 2, don’t run the ball.

Every member of that England team played with pride, passion and commitment, of that there can be no doubt, but negative tactics often come back to haunt you. There is no guarantee that you will score a try, but a set of 6 in the oppositions last ¼ will more often than not mean that you will turn over the ball on or near their touchline. England’s decision to “take the 2” has meant that they took the pressure off the Kiwis who soon realised that if they messed up and gave away a penalty, rather than have to defend it & become fatigued, they had to stand, wait for the kick and then return the ball and make England play all the way down the pitch, having only lost a possible 2 points rather than a possible 6. Yes, the Kiwis also kicked a penalty in the 1st half, but they always looked like they could cross our line. At times, our leadership both off and on the field looked weak, a case of if I kick this & we win, I’m a hero, if I kick & we lose, we fail as a team. It is, at the end of the day a team sport, and I lay no blame at the feet of any individual who pulled on an England shirt for the defeat, rather it lies at the feet of those in charge of coaching the free flowing rugby we all love and that the Aussies & Kiwis play to such great effect. We have weak leadership at the RFL who seem to know nothing about sport or business at times.

Who gives away a TWO year sponsorship deal, cancels it after one and then expects someone to pay? Nigel Wood & Co. No wonder six clubs wanted a review of the competition’s commercial management and governance, before talking about how the league should be structured. It’s only right and proper that the Clubs themselves are run on a sound financial footing, but it seems that the RFL are exempt from that.

Perhaps the time has arrived and the RFL in its present guise is no longer fit for purpose. An overhaul is needed, of that there can be no doubt, but where do we start? With the clubs, or with the administration of the game that has let the clubs down?

They have brought in Brian Barwick, a man who left the FA under a cloud after he failed to agree with its first independent chairman, Lord Triesman, how it should move forward. He has less experience in running a successful business than I have! OK, Barwick has only been “in post” for just under a year, but let’s face it, he has an uphill struggle to convince fans that he can turn around the commercial fortunes of the sport, especially if others at Red Hall are unwilling to look at sponsors who don’t fit the family friendly face of the game they are so keen on pushing.

Gary Hetherington, for all his perceived faults by other people within rugby League has at least since 1996 made Leeds Rhinos into arguably the biggest club in English rugby league. Why are we not looking at people like him to run the game? Or is it just a merry go round for people like Barwick? Where next? Volleyball England for a couple of years, or the International Federation of Dominos perhaps? Let’s face it, he must be very busy as a member of the Board of Directors at Hampton & Richmond Borough F.C. In February 2012 he was appointed by Liverpool F.C owners to the management hierarchy of the club as well as chairman of the RFL, so I’m not surprised he very rarely gets to anything but games like the challenge cup final, world cup opening games, semi & final. OK, we as fans don’t get to see behind the velvet curtains at what is going on, but again, isn’t that what the clubs are also asking for? A little bit of clarity and assurance that things will get better commercially?

Oh, and Australia demolished Fiji…

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