5 Things We Learned #71

Denver a huge success

We wanted our test with the Kiwis to be a spectacle, and it didn’t disappoint. What a way to showcase our game in America! To get a crowd of almost 20,000 in an RL development country is in itself a huge achievement, as was having the game televised on the BBC on a Saturday evening. Those claiming the event was a failure because we didn’t manage to fill the 76,000 capacity Mile High stadium need to go and look at the previous attendance figures for test matches between England and New Zealand.

The venue itself looked excellent. The pitch and markings were superb, although I think there could be some considerable improvement in the choosing of a singer for the national anthems, after a performance that was toe-curling to say the least. All we needed to cap it off was a great game and that’s exactly what we got. It was fast paced, exciting and full of top quality football which I’m sure impressed our American audience. The next step is to make it an annual event, or even have a test series over there if we’re feeling more ambitious. This could be the start of a huge expansion for our sport.

 

A surprise partnership

This might sound strange, but is it really that inconceivable to consider Gareth Widdop and Jake Connor as England’s halves partnership? The halves have long been our problem positions but Saturday’s performance, particularly in the second half, was superb from that point of view. Widdop led from the front as ever, while Connor changed the game when he came on and gave us a different sort of attacking edge.

When you think about it, the two suit each other perfectly. The best halves combinations are usually made up of an organiser, who takes charge and orders players around the field, and a runner, who basically supports and plays what’s in front of him. Widdop’s composed attitude and Connor’s unpredictable, off-the-cuff style undoubtedly has that ability to unlock defences. I’m sure the likes of Luke Gale and Danny Richardson will have something to say about the situation, but Connor has certainly thrown his hat in the ring.

 

Depth isn’t an issue

It was good to see two debutants for England at the weekend, and both players didn’t look out of place on the international stage at all. As I’ve already mentioned, Connor played with the confidence we’re used to seeing and changed the game when he came on, while Tom Makinson was also impressive despite playing in the fairly unfamiliar centre position.

I’d have liked to see a couple more players given chances, especially Luke Thompson and Danny Richardson, but the player pool Bennett has at his disposal is certainly strengthening. As usual, there are plenty of options in the forwards and on the wings, but we’re now even gaining depth in the centres and halves as well. The England Knights tour at the end of the season will be crucial in strengthening our options across the field as we build towards the 2021 World Cup and will hopefully see more and more players given full England debuts in the next couple of years.

 

Catalans employing desperate tactics

I’m pleased Catalans are getting themselves back on the horse, but some of the tactics used to beat Leeds were pathetic. Leading by three points, players started to stay down and feign injury to slow the game and run down the clock, while there were also reports of players goading fans, with Greg Bird even reportedly threatening some.

Is this the sort of desperation the Dragons find themselves in? I remember their early days where they played a beautiful, expansive brand of rugby with the likes of Stacey Jones, Adam Mogg and Clint Greenshields tearing sides to pieces in Perpignan. There were none of these niggly, unsportsmanlike tactics. It seems as if the culture has significantly changed over the years and not for the better but, as Brian McDermott said on Friday, tactics like this won’t benefit them in the long run.

 

Blues begin a new era

I think it’s safe to say the tide is turning in State of Origin after the Blues’ secured the series with an 18-14 win on Sunday. After years of domination from Queensland that included 11 series wins out of 13 since 2006, this young New South Wales side came out and took both games by the scruff of the neck, putting in two confident and mature performances.

The Maroons were, of course, slightly depleted this year with the retirement of Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk but that doesn’t take away from the quality of their opponents. Series debutants Nathan Cleary and Latrell Mitchell were particularly outstanding. They were the stars of the Blues’ attack and are undoubtedly the future of Australian Rugby League. The inclusion of NRL veteran Matt Prior in game II also proved a masterstroke. The appointment of Brad Fittler as head coach was a risky move but certainly paid off. He knows the players inside out and wasn’t afraid to make bold selections, which is why I can’t see their success limiting itself to this year.

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