I’ve really enjoyed the Four Nations competition, a feast of international Rugby League and I managed to see all the games, either on TV or in the flesh.
The addition of a fourth team to the previous Tri-nations tournament has been a welcome step forward. It means that there are two games each weekend therefore no team gets, for better or worse, the week off before the final.
Let’s take a look at each of the teams involved:
Like every Aussie side to come to Europe since the 1982 ‘Invincibles’, they are big, strong and skillful. Something, though, is missing.
In their opening game against New Zealand they were lucky to get away with a draw against an inexperienced Kiwi side.
In the first half against England, they looked like the machine we have come to know and admire, if not love. After the half time break they were outplayed by a team that had left themselves too much to do.
The biggest surprise was against the French, a game in which they were expected to run up a cricket score. Even allowing for the fact that a number of changes were made to the side, and some players were making their Kangaroos debut, they looked strangely disjointed.
For the first 50 minutes of the final they looked beatable but then they turned it on and, in the end, ran away with the game, although the final scoreline flattered them.
Still the team to beat.
Disappointing against the French and in the first 40 against Australia, England turned their tournament around against New Zealand. Taking heart from their second half performance against Australia, and with some sensible and overdue team changes, they controlled the game against the Kiwis. In particular their second half defensive performance augured well for the final.
Ah, the final! For an hour England were competitive, only 10-14 down at half time and leading with thirty minutes left. Then the Aussies stepped up a gear and we had no answer.
Where do England go from here? In many ways this competition was a stepping stone to the 2013 World Cup. England manged to establish themselves as the second best side in the World but now, with Tony Smith standing down, some changes need to be to be made to the squad. Jamie Peacock and Adrian Morley will be too old in 2013 and Shaun Briscoe, Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield are simply not good enough. The team needs to be built around Sam Tomkins, Kyle Eastmond, James Roby, James Graham and Sam Burgess.
The RFL needs to get proper regulations in place to ensure that teams are not filled with players who don’t qualify for the Home Nations or France. That’s not to say there should be no overseas players, I’m suggesting that they should be people who are not just coming for a last payday and who can teach our youngsters some good habits.
England needs a competition similar to the Australian State of Origin series. Ideally that would be a mid-season test series against the French but they are not ready for that yet. Lancashire v Yorkshire hasn’t worked in recent attempts to revive it and is a little parochial as the game seeks to expand nationally. Perhaps we should try reviving the ‘Probable’ v ‘Possible’ trial games. I’m open to other suggestions.
Despite losing all three games, France should be encouraged by their performance throughout the tournament, a vast improvement on the 2008 World Cup where they lost to Fiji by 36 points and beat Scotland by 18.
In all their matches they started well but tired in the second halves, hardly surprising against big, strong, full-time players. They gave England a half time shock, leading 12 -4, and avoided the anticipated cricket scores against Australia and New Zealand.
Bobbie Goulding seems to have created a good team spirit and hopefully the French will stick with him as coach. France now needs to build on this competition to ensure, with all due respect to Wales, that they are the fourth side when the 4 Nations returns to Europe.
The Kiwis will have come to Europe expecting to at least reach the final of the tournament. That they didn’t is due to a number of factors. The most important of these was the withdrawal of a number of their experienced players. This meant that, despite an outstanding performance, they couldn’t hold out to beat the Aussies and had to settle for the draw which probably eliminated them. Their second misfortune was to come up against an England team that had made changes following their poor game against Australia and were determined to do better.
It does seem though that, with more experience for this squad, the New Zealanders are going to continue to be genuine contenders at international level.