Rugby League World Cup 2013 – Opening Weekend

rlwcA bit of preamble – has to be done!

Being sports mad and needing to have fixtures to look forward to I bought my tickets for the RLWC openers, semis and final as soon as I could, so it feels like I’ve been waiting an age! And so on Saturday 26th October I found myself sitting in the magnificent Millenium Stadium in Cardiff – the home of Welsh rugby union.  A strange place it may seem to start the whole thing off but there is a history; the first Magic Weekend took place there in 2007 then again in 2008 and 2011.  There are also 2 teams in the Championship One league – North Wales Crusaders and South Wales Scorpions.  I was interested to see who was going to be in the crowd of 45,000 and as I’m never shy I had a good chat to a lot of people.  There were clearly a lot of people from the traditional home of rugby league, oop North but I also met a lot of union fans who enjoyed the day and enjoyed the rugby.  One father and son I met from Gloucester on the train home were an interesting example.  The son plays for the Gloucester All Golds (RL) Dad has been a union coach, he explained that taking his league coaches qualification has made him a better union coach.  When you look at the national rugby union set ups in the UK 3 have a league coach in there somewhere; England – Andy Farrell, Ireland – Les Kiss and Wales – Shaun Edwards.  Edwards was the one England let get away to me; I’ve never seen a man so full of concentration and passion when he’s watching rugby. I’m sure his input has been a big factor in the success of the Welsh team.

On to the actual rugby! Australia v England

A relatively young England team took the field against a vastly experienced Australian team, virtually every green shirt was filled by a name any team would be proud to have I their line-up.  The loss of James Graham in the starting team was hugely significant; one of the best props in the world with experience of the Australians meant the very inexperienced Tom Burgess took a place on the bench with only 9 appearances to his name in 2013.  However England totally dominated the first 20 minutes spending 69% of that time in the Green and Gold’s half.  They were rewarded with 2 tries; the first scored by Ryan Harris, sporting very dodgy blond hair, he went over the line after a sublime pass from Sam Tomkins who looped the ball missing one set of English hands.  The second try was something of a wonder score as Leroy Cudjoe leapt above several Australian defenders to catch the ball – he then twisted his body round to place the ball over the try line.  With a successful conversion England were leading 10 nil after 20 minutes.

However all the hard work was undone by a better passage of play by the Kangaroos as they seemed to remember why they were there!  Greg Inglis started the heartbreak when he jumped for a Cooper Cronk (only a name like that in Australia!) beating Sam Tomkins to the ball he put Johnathan Thurston in to score.  Next was a Greg Bird try as he burst through from close quarters; this try came after England gave away a number of soft penalties.  Billy Slater scored an individual try just as the clock was reaching half time; England left a gap in their defensive line  and Slater slipped through one tackle to run in for a simple score. It was great to see Billy running in from a rugby point of view, but so very disappointing!  The first half finished Australia 18 England 10.

Billy Slater started the first half with a piece of wonder rugby as he leapt up to hit the ball back into the field preventing what would have been a great 40/20 and an England put in to the scrum.  The next attempt at a 40/20 was by Australia; Josh Charnley, however didn’t fare as well as Slater as he was deemed by the linesman to have put a foot in touch; the majority of the video refs in the crowd felt the decision was wrong and made their feelings known as Brett Morris scored as the ball was passed along the line after the resulting scrum.  It could be argued that the linesman felt aggrieved by having to wear pink – but the replay showed a centimetre of boot on the line I believe.  Australia the super star team were definitely back!

I’m watching the game over again on Premier Sports Player as I write this report – I just had to subscribe – and I have to say it’s a pleasure to hear the praise for a fair few of the English players coming from the Australian commentators; and always a pleasure to hear a Wigan accent in the shape of Shaun Edwards!  Yes, In The Loose people this ITL person has a real passion for rugby league!

Right, back to the game, England scored next with a very strong piece of play by George Burgess he powered over the line with 2 Australians on his back.  The referee sent the decision to the video ref even though he was standing right where the ball was grounded!!??  I apologise to those that were sitting around me for shouting, but, really!!  Make a decision!!  With only 6 points between the teams it seemed the result could still go England’s way. However a fairy tale start wasn’t to be for England; Australia chose to kick 2 points after the ref walked England back 10 metres for questioning his decision prompting cries of Swing low sweet chariot, which is funny, but the gap extended to a 2 score one.  A series of penalties against England near their own line resulted in an inevitable score for Australia as Dennis Boyd dived into the corner after some sweet handling. Thurston attempted a difficult conversion and fell as he ran to the ball, the crowd of course cheered and he took a bow which was a great moment!  The score now stood at Australia 28 England 16 with a little over 7 minutes to go.

Josh Charnley scored a good individual try as Slater through a loose ball, Kevin Sinfield missed the conversion and with just over 3 minutes remaining the win was Australia’s. The score line of 28 to 20 was a fair reflection over the whole game.  I hope James Graham has paid his penance and gets a starting spot for the next game.  Sam Burgess is seeing out a 1 game ban on Saturday and Tom didn’t show enough to be on the bench; it’ll be interesting to see the team to face Ireland.

The rest of the weekend in brief

A whirlwind visit to the rest of the games played over the weekend; I’m not so good at brief but let’s give it a go!

Wales 16 v Italy 32 – A number of home grown players in the Wales line up will make things interesting in the future.  Italy?  Seems to me they might be Australia A team by any other name; their team included the outstanding Anthony Minichello a former Golden Boot winner.  What I saw makes the loss by England less than shocking – a good win for Italy they’ll be a team that’s hard to beat.

Papua New Guinea  v France 9 – This was the first sighting of the passion and no other word for it fierceness  that the Islanders bring to rugby league.  The tackling was ferocious and PNG kept France to a single try scored by Tomas Bosc; they scored 2.  Had the tries been converted and a penalty right in front posts been kicked by Mead a shock result would have occurred. The French team is almost a mirror of Les Catalans so the players are used to being on the same field – this was a lucky escape for them.

New Zealand 42 v Samoa 24 – Now I could write pages about this game, with a good paragraph about the 2 amazing Haka’s!  The world champions showed their intent on Sunday evening coming out all guns blazing at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. The score was NZ 26 Samoa 4 at half time and things looked ominous for the men in blue. Samoa had other plans and came back with great fight, the tackles and tries scored by both teams were a truly wonderful advert for rugby league!  I’d challenge any sports fan not to have been excited by the fare on show.  A spirited fight back got the Warrington crowd behind the Samoans and they made many new friends.  The Sonny Bill Williams haters – that I don’t get, the man is a supreme rugby player – will have been overjoyed that when he made a great break to score; he slipped and went over the back line before placing the ball down, bit of an oops moment that!  I would judge that the Kiwis are the team to beat in this competition and look forward to their next game.

Hopefully you can tell by my writing that I’m passionate about the game of rugby league and from my past articles the same about union; it’s a great hope of mine that this World Cup closes some of the gap in people’s minds between the 2 codes.  They are different games with different attractions and just think – watch RL as well as RU and you get to watch rugby all year round like me!

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