The strange set up that is the Rugby league World Cup consists of 4 ‘leagues’ 2 of which have 4 teams and 2 with 3. Now to confuse completely! 3 of the 4 from the 2 with 4 qualify for the quarter finals but only 1 of the 3 from the 2 with 3! Easy to understand? I would say not, and fair? Do you know I think not either; the leagues of 3 have thrown up some of the surprise packages of the tournament in the USA and Scotland. The USA will progress as they head their league, Scotland wait on the result of the Tonga v Italy (Aus A) and must hope that Tonga play their hearts out and win!
And so to England’s last pool game against Fiji; first a bit of background on the Islanders. They first appeared in the world of international rugby league in 1992, playing in the 1995 World Cup, they were in a group with England and Australia and suffered losses that saw them go no further than the pool; they suffered the same fate in 2000. However 2008 saw them pitted against France and Ireland and they progressed to the semi final where, yet again their nemeses Australia put an end to their World Cup dreams. Fiji, known as The Bati have amongst their number a true great of the game Petero Civoniceva a legend of the NRL with 45 caps to his name for Australia he has pledged his allegiance to the nation of his birth. The Bati also has a trio of brothers in their starting line up; Ashton, Tariq and Korbin Sims! Take that the Burgess clan!
With more options amongst the big boys available to them with the return of Sam Burgess his brother Tom wasn’t on the list of 17 for this game; for me a good decision with only 9 games to his name during the NRL season he made too many mistakes in his previous outings. Wigan player Michael Mcilorum was included in the starting line up, but no place for his colleague and top superleague try scorer Josh Charnley.
Having been unwell all week I gave up my ticket to the England RU v Argentina game, shocking myself more than anyone! I found I had a dilemma, both England Union and League playing at the same time! How ridiculous I have to say at this point; why on earth have the League games on at the same time?? I chose to watch the game I was going to be at so write this report after the fact; knowing I was going to be seeing a fairly uneventful first half, the same could be said for the second half of the union game!
At 13 minutes the commentators suggested there was nothing to scare England, however from my viewpoint there was nothing to scare Fiji either! The most notable action in the first 20 minutes was an awful spear tackle by Fiji 11 Korbin Sims I often ask what is it you have to do to get a yellow card? For this tackle there was an argument for a red! And it was right in front of the referee, clearly the lack of a machete was the reason the incident was merely placed ‘on report’, a cop out in my opinion!
A mistake by Sam Tomkins caused some excitement as he let the ball go between his legs allowing Daryl Millard in to touch the ball down, Tomkins was however tackled off the ball by another Sims brother, Tariq so the score was wiped off.
Very unusually with 32 minutes showing on the clock there was no score forthcoming; Fiji were to be the first to change that after Tariq Sims popped a very neat pass to Eloni Vunakece with the conversion a heady 6 points were posted.
England replied with a first try for his country from Ben Westwood after Kevin Sinfield popped a pass as he was being tackled; the try was converted; leaving the score at an even 6 a piece. At this point it was a good job I knew things were to improve! Although, and I am sneaking this in here, a low scoring rugby league half of rugby is nowhere near as boring as a similar union half!
With a message of intent to send and realistically a second place in the pool up for grabs (barring a miracle in the Emerald Isle) England needed to lift their game! And so it was to prove; Fiji missed the ball from the kick off and Rob Burrows combined with Sam Burgess who powered over to score. Things didn’t improve for Fiji as they gave a penalty away as England were in their own half; Rangi Chase started the half as he meant to carry on; delaying a pass to Brett Ferres for an easy run over the line to score. Two tries scored with 44 minutes on the clock and the only possession for Fiji was for the kicker on the restarts.
(Sir) Kevin Sinfield showed every school boy how not to tackle after 6 minutes of the half; seemingly stunned he carried on nevertheless. The head injury issue appeared again, and I have to say again, Sinfield should have left the field for 10 minutes to be properly assessed! Ryan Hall scored a wonderful wingers try next; having blown for a scrum the ref changed his mind and went to the TMO, Hall who is a man mountain of a winger miraculously stayed in the field of play and Sinfield converted to take England to 24 Fiji remaining on 6.
The next score by England had me clapping and shouting in my living room (on my own) as Sinfield, proving he was in top form, passed to Chris Hill, who in turn passed to the impressive George Burgess; he must be a total nightmare to see running at you! Burgess passed to a man who defies logic in the game of rugby league, due to his stature, Rob Burrow who topped off a great try! Fiji must have wondered what sort of rocket had been inserted where in the England dressing room at half time!
Wherever the rocket went it looked as if it had powered another try on 55 minutes as Burrows scooted over again after Sam Burgess powered through, he was however held up. A note to the commentator here… Sam has dark hair, George (and Tom) are actually slightly bigger and Blond!! England reset 10 metres out and Rangi Chase made a great pass to Sam Tomkins who in turn passed to Ryan Hall who went in for an easier score. The conversion was missed this time but the score stood at a much healthier England 34 Fiji 6
England didn’t score again in the half in spite of best efforts; but something that was plain as the half progressed, love him or hate him Rangi Chase is a truly talented rugby player; he has pledged himself to England as he’s entitled to; time to get fully behind him for me. With not much more to report from the last 17 minutes of the game I’m also going to get a moan in about the good old Mexican wave, is it only me that gets really annoyed by it when I’m concentrating on the game I’ve gone to see; I find it so disrespectful to the players on the field, by all means at half time but not when play is in full flow! So yes, I am one of the ones being booed at for actually watching the rugby!
Fiji had the last word on the scoreboard as things started to get slightly fractious; another great wingers try by Semi Radradra which may have been prevented had Leroy Cudjoe tried to tackle him rather than push him. The try was converted taking the score to it’s final position of England 34 Fiji 12. Rob Burrows fell injured in the run up to the try, looking to be in a very bad way as he caught a flying boot to the face in trying to make a brave tackle.
Next Saturday will see England playing at the home of Wigan RL in the North West heart of rugby league; their competitors will be either France or Samoa. I think they should beat either team but I’d prefer a less physical encounter against France with The Kiwis likely to be lying in wait at Wembley.