England 18-4 Combined Nations: Highlights, player ratings and talking points

England’s World Cup hopes received an almighty boost today as they defeated a Combined Nations All Stars team with plenty of quality in it.

England though were dominant from the word go with a very accomplished and complete performance. Not one we’re likely to remember or re-watch again and again but one which demonstrated the base on which a successful international side needs to be built.

Highlights

England defence stops early breach despite some slick All Stars offence
The All Stars gave England a warning early on in the game with some delightful rugby. After Brodie Croft had stepped his way through, the Combined Nations stretched the England defence with some pattern plays even forcing two six agains. However, Shaun Wane will have been pleased with the way his side held on eventually forcing a knock on from Croft who started it all.

Debut delight for Jake Wardle
That defensive effort was made all the more important by the fact England went straight up the other end of the field and scored. After picking up a penalty, England probed left then right then back left where a sharp Sam Tomkins’ pass and a hard line from Jake Wardle unlocked the All Star’ defence. A lovely moment for Wardle on his England debut and a real captain’s knock from Tomkins who went on to convert the try.

Bateman burst creates try for Williams
One thing England did well from the start of the game was play with speed. Their ruck speed was superb with the backs like Ryan Hall and forwards like Alex Walmsley getting England on the front foot. Eventually, England directly benefitted from it as Bateman burst through on the back of a quick ruck going passed two defenders as he made it into the back field. As he got passed Peter Mata’utia his momentum slowed but his old Wigan and Canberra teammate George Williams was alongside to take the pass and score.

Bateman powers over for deserved try
John Bateman – though playing at 13 which is a role we very rarely see him play at Wigan despite donning the shirt number – was still outstanding as he capitalised on England’s quick ruck speed with angled runs which routinely caused havoc in the All Stars defence as seen by the try he created for Williams. At the start of the second half, he picked up a try for himself this time running outwards rather than cutting inwards, he got around a defender before demonstrating remarkable strength to touch the ball down.

More exceptional defence denied the All Stars
Needing a try, the All Stars broke from deep as we neared the 50 minute mark. Kelepi Tanginoa broke through and a try looked on the cards with Kruise Leeming and Mahe Fonua in support but the scramble from England ensured that the chance was snuffed out – another attributed England will need if they want to go far in the World Cup.

Copy and paste
Take what I just said and repeat it. This time Kruise Leeming made the break before picking out Shaun Kenny-Dowall in support with a long ball. However, more fantastic scramble defence denied him and the supporting Jacob Miller. As with the other chance, a crossfield kick followed but was well dealt with by England – more outstanding defence from Shaun Wane a hallmark of his dominant Wigan side.

Quick hands get the Combined Nations on the board
After the introduction of Kruise Leeming, the Combined Nations looked a different proposition and were far less predictable. It was fitting that he conjured up their first try as he feigned to go right from a tap before going left picking out Kenny-Dowall who barely had the ball in hands for a second before moving it onto Ken Sio who dived in at the corner.

Talking Points:

Brodie Croft is a joy to watch
Whenever Brodie Croft had the ball in his hands today, there seemed to be threat to England’s defence. Always able to catch out over chasers with dynamic footwork, he also has a delightful slight of hand when creating openings for others. He should go on to be a top player in Super League and is the exact type of player England need to be testing themselves against.

Ryan Hall nails basics in reminder of value to international team
Very few attacking opportunities came the way of Ryan Hall in the first 40 but he demonstrated his value to the England team with some brilliant drives and kick returns running at considerable pace driving defenders back and getting England on the front foot with a quick ruck speed. It’s this that establishes his value to the national side as you first and foremost need these attributes if you’re going to go far in a World Cup. Both he and the excellent Tommy Makinson proved they can provide that in bucket loads today.

Basics the key word
The basics were at the heart of Ryan Hall’s performance, but they were also at the heart of England’s performance. Shaun Wane’s team were committed in defence and played the game well down the middle with a really quick ruck and sharp running on the back of this. That got England down field with ease swaying the game in their favour. On the back of that, England could express themselves but the majority of their joy came down when coming back inside at the tattered ruck.

England show they can weather a storm
For a spell in the second half England were dead against it as the Combined Nations nearly crossed for two long range tries and continued to get into dangerous positions. However, the scramble defence from England thwarted these All Star attacks and demonstrated a real steel in weathering this storm; again this is something they’ll need come the World Cup.

Kruise Leeming puts his hand up for England call-up
There were two English players in the Combined Nations team today who were both unlucky to miss out on Shaun Wane’s side and both vying for the same position at nine. Daryl Clark did well in the first half, but Kruise Leeming certainly caught the eye when he came on. The Leeds skipper made a number of breaks from nine and showed his passing and kicking skills in creating openings for others too.

Would this fixture have been even better with more prep
Today’s game was a very fast paced and enjoyable spectacle but at times lacked a touch of creativity and expansion no doubt to the lack of prep both teams had going into this game. Perhaps there should be a bigger international window or a series between the two sides to truly maximise the quality on show.

Player Ratings

England
1 Sam Tomkins – 8
2 Tommy Makinson – 8
3 Kallum Watkins – 6
4 Jake Wardle – 7
5 Ryan Hall – 8
6 Jack Welsby – 7
7 George Williams – 7
8 Alex Walmsley – 7
9 Michael McIlorum – 7
10 Mike Cooper – 7
11 Liam Farrell – 8
12 Mike McMeeken – 6
13 John Bateman – 9
Substitutes
14 Paul McShane – 6
15 Joe Batchelor – 6
16 Matty Lees – 7
17 Mikolaj Oledzki – 7

Combined Nations
1 Peter Mata’utia – 7
2 Ken Sio – 7
3 Rhyse Martin – 6
4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall – 7
5 Mahe Fonua – 6
6 Jacob Miller – 7
7 Brodie Croft – 7
8 Ligi Sao – 6
9 Daryl Clark – 6
10 Zane Tetevano – 6
11 Kenny Edwards – 6
12 Kelepi Tanginoa – 7
13 Matt Prior – N/A
Substitutes
14 Kruise Leeming – 9
15 Joe Lovodua – 6
16 Chris Satae – 6
17 David Fifita – 6

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