Archive for the ‘International’ Category

World Cup 2013 in England

August 8, 2009


So, we’re getting a World Cup in England! Yay! Admittedly it didn’t work out so well last time, but it worked the time before that and the last World Cup was a success in its own right. Most importantly, this is being planned four years out, which allows for ample preparation time (a rarity in Rugby League). 

It’ll be interesting to see what format they use. It’s been pretty much said there will be twelve teams, which seems about right to me (especially as three groups of four would bypass the need to have byes, which proved crucial in determining the final group tables at the last world cup). I would like there to be three groups of four, with two big sides in a group that gets two semi-final spots (then it could open with an England-Australia game somewhere). I’m not sure there’s such a great need for a Super Group this time, but I worry that’s the direction the organizers are heading in. Although the format generated exciting games, it also attracted a lot of ire and basically forced Papua New Guinea out of a semi-final spot. 

It will also be interesting to see what venues are used. I think that the plan to mainly use stadiums in the heartlands is a sensible one, especially after the 2000 World Cup. However, I also think it’s worth pointing out that Super League rugby is played in London, Bridgend / Newport and Perpignan, and it’s worth playing games there. I think playing the opening game in a largish venue in London (particularly if it’s England-Australia) should be seriously considered, as should a game at The Stoop. If Wales and France qualify, then they should probably get a home game each (at least). 

The venue for the final could be intriguing as well. It would be nice to think we could get a big crowd at Wembley, but I think that would require England to be there and I doubt the RFL have that much confidence. I would be more than happy with a final at the City of Manchester Stadium, where I once saw an excellent crowd generate a lot of atmosphere for a GB-Australia test in 2004. It’s a large modern stadium and I think it should be where the Tri-Nations final should be every time it’s in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Anyway, I’m just glad that there’s a tournament on and that we now have something to look forward to. Hopefully the success of the last world cup can be built on to make the tournament an outstanding success. I look forward to getting my tickets already!


France 12 – 66 England

June 14, 2009

I can’t remember the last time I felt this bad about an English side thrashing another team. England cantered to a very large victory in Paris yesterday against a very lacklustre French outfit that for the first half at least looked like they couldn’t be bothered. Although England will no doubt give all that talk about ‘beating what’s put in front of you’ and will no doubt be pleased with the result, it was a match that gave us no real indication as to how good this England side really is, because the home side were so bad. 

From the moment Ryan Atkins went over for England’s first try in the seventh minute, this game was over. England continued scoring at slightly over a point a minute for the rest of the first half, and even though they did it with some nice long range efforts, it should be pointed out that France seemed to offer minimal resistance. Their defensive structures were absolutely appalling and left far too much space on the fringes for English players to run into untouched. On the odd occasion that they actually managed to get to a player like Gareth Hock, they were still usually powerless to stop the offload. France were missing some of their front-line forward pack (Fakir, Elima etc.) but the guys who replaced them offered no fight down the middle. France were barely able to get out of their own half. It was not a good start for Bobby Goulding. I know he wants to avoid using French-based Australians, but if Clint Greenshields makes himself available for the 4 Nations, is Goulding really in a position to turn him down?

As for England, I’m not sure how much we learned apart from the fact that they can thrash a poor French side. Nobody looked out of place and I was glad to see Ryan Hall go well on debut because the wing is a position where England really need players to step up a level or two. It has to be said that the pack completely dominated the French and seemed to make twice as much ground per set as their cross-channel counterparts. Of course, whether they could do such a thing against the Kiwis or Kangaroos remains to be seen, and I would be skeptical about that happening. 

I was hoping this would be a closer game, because it would be extremely beneficial for both sides if England and France could partake in a close game each year. England really need a boost in intensity, and I don’t think France at the moment provide it. Now I don’t think we should stop playing these games, but France really need to look at what they can do to raise their standards. The most worrying thing about this result is that it casts a shadow of doubt over the 4 Nations. If England can do that to France without ever really getting out of second gear, then what are the Kangaroos at full pelt going to do? Hopefully France raise their game so we don’t have to find out an answer to that…

Tony Smith to Warrington

March 6, 2009
Tony Smith, wondering just how hes going to turn this one around

Tony Smith, wondering just how he's going to turn this one around (Getty Images)


I know I’m way late on this (work is such a hassle sometimes) but you can’t really avoid commenting on this. Tony Smith, England Coach, has been appointed as Warrington’s Head of Coaching and Performance. James Lowes is staying on as 1st Team Coach. In doing this, Smith now has had to step down as Technical Director of the RFL, although he is remaining on as England Coach in a part-time capacity.

I can’t say I’m all that surprised by the announcement. There are many reasons I could imagine that Smith would want to take up such a challenge:

  1. Warrington are still a club with a decent core of very talented players, and it’s quite obvious that they have under-achieved. Smith probably thinks he’ll have a few fun toys to play with at the Wolves
  2. I would suspect that Smith might be missing the more hands-on nature of Club management
  3. He badly under-achieved with England at the World Cup and is looking for an outlet to prove that he’s still a more-than-capable coach
  4. He’s guaranteed himself some work after the Four Nations

There are also a fair few reasons why this move makes very good sense for the Wolves:

  1. ‘Under-achieve’ doesn’t do justice to what has happened to the Wolves so far this season. Their swings from ‘good’ to ‘very bad’ even within the same game has been alarming to say the least. James Lowes hasn’t been instilling confidence and they need to stop the rot as soon as possible
  2. Tony Smith is a coach with a proven track record in Super League. Apart from one season where his Huddersfield side got relegated (and to be fair to Smith, they would have been relegated long before he took charge if they hadn’t been saved by bureaucracy) he’s basically succeeded with every side he’s coached. 
  3. Connected to point 2, he’s one of the key forces that turned Leeds from under-achievers to the dominant force in Super League, something I imagine the Warrington board may have noticed and may relate to.

Really, the big losers here appear to be the RFL, who now no longer have a Technical Director, and have an England Coach who’s not fully committed to the job and has vested interests outside of the team. It adds another layer of intrigue to the Four Nations, and I hope that for Smith’s sake he manages to get success with at least one of his two sides now. This could prove to be exactly the remedy that Warrington needed.

Leeds Rhinos 20 – 28 Manly Sea Eagles

March 1, 2009

For a long time, I thought the scoreboard wasn’t going to do Leeds justice. After having just about kept themselves in the game at half time, being behind at the interval by a 12-4 scoreline, they suddenly found themselves completely out of the game around seven minutes after restarting, as Manly hit them with one of the most intense blitzkreigs of scintillating Rugby seen in quite a while. Three tries (three very very good tries) meant that suddenly Manly were 26-4 up with half an hour to play, and a Rhinos side that had coped admirably thus far with adversity (Rob Burrow went off very early on after being laid flat out) looked like they were going to be uncharacteristically overwhelmed.

It’s to Leeds’ credit that they not only pulled the scoreline back to respectable margins, but that they could possibly sneaked it had they been a little more composed and took full advantage of the switch in momentum that took place in the final quarter. It’s to Manly’s credit that they didn’t really look like letting Leeds pull it back, and most of the tries that they conceded were those of a team who knew they were going to win and had taken their foot off the gas. When Leeds looked like they might be sneaking back into it, Manly upped the intensity again and closed out the game. Indeed, the whole game had a very intense feel about it, as shown by the two all-in brawls that took place (one in each half). In the end, Manly were far more able to cope with that intensity.

I suspect Leeds will look at this game as a missed opportunity on two counts. Firstly, this was the first World Club Challenge for a while where the Super League side were the ones under-strength, with Danny Buderus missing and Rob Burrow starting his first game of the season, only to get knocked out of it early on. Secondly, they will be disappointed by their horror showing just after the break. It’s hard to emphasise enough how much of a gut-punch it is to concede back-to-back tries, so to concede back-to-back-to-back tries really must have smashed Leeds’ confidence and left them with far too much to do in the final quarter. Their little burst at the end makes one wonder what the game might have been like if it was close heading into the final quarter.

I kind of suspect that Manly would have won anyway. Their pack generally outmuscled a young set of Rhinos forwards (with the exception of Ali Lauitiiti whose ball-handling game in the second half did as much as anything else to drag Leeds back into it) and their backs… well, what’s to say? This is an insanely good set of backs that would not look out of place at all in the Test arena. Brett Stewart is a pure finisher, and even though his tries weren’t as spectacular as some he’s scored for the Sea Eagles before, he still showed an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. With the likes of Lyon, Matai, Orford etc to back him up and indeed put chances on a plate for him, it’s a backline probably unparalleled in club rugby right now (hell, most international sides don’t have a lineup that good either) and ultimately finishing ability (from both the backs and the forwards) was what won Manly this game.

File Under ‘Curious’: Bobby Goulding named new France Coach

February 28, 2009
At the very least, he should be well up for it (Clive Brunskill / Allsport)

At the very least, he should be well up for it (Clive Brunskill / Allsport)

It was announced yesterday that former St Helens and Great Britain scrum-half Bobby Goulding has been appointed as Coach of the French National Team in the wake of John Monie’s contract not being renewed. Goulding has signed a three-year contract and is entrusted with lifting the standard of Les Tricolores after what can only be described as an embarassing World Cup.

Well, I didn’t see this one coming at all. Goulding had done relatively well as coach of Rochdale a few seasons ago but had left the job after being frustated with the club’s attitude. That’s not exactly the coaching CV of an obviously international caliber coach. The first inclination is to consider this a bad choice, what with Goulding’s lack of experience and seeming lack of temperament for high level coaching.

Then again, who knows how well he might go? I’m not sure how much further France could sink right now and he might just give them the kick up the arse that they need. I suspect a lot of it could hinge on his choices for assistants, as he’s going to be under a lot of pressure from the off (Test against England, a Four Nations to worry about) and he’s going to need to spread some of that around. I’m inclined to give Goulding a bit of time to show us what he can do before ripping into him. I suspect this should at least be fun to watch either way.

Tim Sheens: New Kangaroos Coach

February 24, 2009

After Ricky Stuart’s acrimonious departure for the Australian coaching job, the ARL have given the job to Tim Sheens. Not a bad choice at all, in my opinion, what with the four Premierships and the general preference for an open, exciting style of play. It should add an extra frisson to the tests against the Kiwis, what with Benji Marshall being a Tiger. He’s also far less likely to shout abuse at the referee in any post-match functions, which I count as a plus.

Four Nations Fixtures Released, Reveal Shockingly Conservative Approach

February 23, 2009

Today the RFL released details fo the upcoming Four Nations dates and venues, and there’s more than a few surprises involved, none of them particularly nice:

24/25 October:

England v France Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster

Australia v New Zealand The Stoop, London

1/2 November:

England v Australia JJB Stadium, Wigan

France v New Zealand TBC, France

8/9 November:

England v New Zealand Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield

France v Australia TBC, France

14 November:

Final Elland Road, Leeds

That first weekend in particular is shockingly revealing of low confidence in the drawing power of the Four Nations, not to mention reeking of a money-saving mindset. I understand that there’s a credit crunch going on and that everybody wants to keep the extra pennies, but it really creats an image problem when what is supposed to be the premier event on the Rugby League international calendar opens up in stadiums with just over 27,000 capacity between them. On the plus side I would imagine that the Stoop would sell out, which in another respect is disappointing as the Kangaroos and Kiwis sold out a bigger ground in Loftus Road only a few years ago and I suspect that they could do it again. I also understand the logic of choosing the Keepmoat for the France game (the crowd for the Wales game last year was a pleasant surprise) but really they should be aiming for a higher crowd. Considering the talk in the lead up to the World Cup of going to Wembley for a game against Australia, the JJB Stadium can’t help be be a disappointment.

More than anything else, it seems to show that the RFL don’t have much confidence in England’s ability as a draw, and after the World Cup why would they? France haven’t exactly looked hot in the last year either, and there seems to be a genuine fear that this will be a damage limitation exercise. This should be a premier event for Rugby League in this country, yet people seem to be fearing that it turns into a disaster. Unfortunately, with that sort of mindset it probably will turn into a disaster. I’m really hoping now that England reach the Final at Elland Rd and put in at the very least a credible performance, because it’s hard to see the RFL being willing to expand the potential exposure they could get if England are going to just crap on the stage again.

Senior: There was no unity

February 1, 2009
Well, at least these guys want to be my friends! (Getty Images)

"Well, at least these guys want to be my friends!" (Getty Images)

Interesting article up on Sporting Life at the minute, in which Keith Senior spills all the beans about the World Cup. By which I mean he says that Saints and Leeds players didn’t get on that well:

“There was a big divide – so many Saints players and so many Leeds players and we didn’t gel on the field which was a big disappointment.

Of course Senior can now come out with these revelations as he has now retired from the international game, and even so he’s still tiptoeing around the subject. Even so, it’s interesting that this has come out, and in retrospect makes a lot of sense. There was a definite lack of cohesion in England’s play. It probably didn’t help that one of the most contentious and important positional decisions (that of who should be Stand-Off) involved two players from either side of this divide.

Personally, although I can understand their dislike of each other (after all, they’ve been the two outstanding sides for a few season now) but if they can’t put aside their differences for a damn WORLD CUP then I have to question why they get to represent their country. It seems symptomatic of a lack of professionalism in that England team, and considering how much the side had to go up against anyway, a lack of unity is the last thing needed. Whilst I doubt England would have won the World Cup anyway, the idea of that side not performing at its fullest because of a few personal gripes pisses me off. I hope Tony Smith and his coaching staff are paying attention, becuase this is a problem that needs to be fixed sharpish.

Bye Bye, Ricky

December 9, 2008
So long, and thanks for the memories...

So long, and thanks for the memories...

I’m pretty sure I opined earlier that it was odd that Ricky Stuart was still Kangaroos coach when they lost their first World Cup Final in 36 years, which judging by what happened to Wayne Bennett after the 2005 Tri-Nations seemed like cause for an automatic sacking, not to mention his outburst at Ashley Klein in the aftermath of the final.

Turns out I was right. Ricky has done the honorable thing and fallen on his sword, and will not be reapplying for the Kangaroos job next year (well, the honorable thing would have been to not go on a tirade at the officials when your supposedly superior side was outplayed, but I digress…).

XIII’s World Cup XIII

November 24, 2008
Not a bad collection of players

Not a bad collection of players...

As the tournament is now over, so what better way to celebrate the festival of Rugby League that we have been lucky to witness than a completely subjective appraisal of some of the key individuals that took part?

I’ve decided to compile a side of players that I thought had a major impact on their teams and on the tournament as a whole. The other criteria is that I have avoided playing anyone out of position. I’ve also probably tried to have as big a spread of competing nations providing players as I could, which means that some players who mostly played in the early stages of the World Cup and didn’t get a chance to shine late on are in here. Part of the problem with the Super Group is that it is hard to gauge how players from Groups B and C would have gone against the big guns.

Of course, there are some players I feel bad about leaving out. Had David Williams played in more games it’s quite likely he would be in this side somewhere. Stanley Gene was inspirational to watch, and his emotion at the end of Papua New Guinea’s final game was heart-rendering. The Aussie back-row worked so well as a unit that they all cancelled out each other’s impact. Nathan Cayless was mostly effective until the final, where his play went up another level. Martin Gleeson was probably the only English back to do his reputation any good (apart from maybe Danny McGuire, who suffered from an insistence on giving Leon Pryce too long to try and find form). Danny Brough was the heart around which Scotland beat, and his absence from their rnaking game showed how necessary he was for the Bravehearts.

Really, a lot of players had big tournaments and all contributed to the success of the competition, but I only have thirteen spots to fill. So here are my picks for outstanding contributors to this World Cup: