For the second home World Cup in a row it was heart break in London in the Rugby League World Cup semi-finals as they lost to a Stephen Crichton drop goal in golden point but after a topsy turvy display will only have themselves to blame.
Samoa strike first
After some early chances for England, it was Samoa who struck first at the Emirates. After England conceded a six again, they were caught out by an offload to powerful runner Joseph Suaal’i. Then from the next play, Tim Lafai got on the outside of Salford Red Devils teammate Kallum Watkins to score in the corner.
After escaping a ban going into the game Junior Paulo was sent to the sin bin after he and Royce Hunt lifted Tom Burgess and nearly dropped the South Sydney Rabbitohs man on his head. Things got worse for Samoa when Tommy Makinson bust through their defence leaving behind him Fa’amanu Brown and Kaufusi Oregon who suffered from a nasty clash of heads which forced both to leave the field.
Lafai denies teammate
Following that change around in the Samoan side England stripped them for numbers and Kallum Watkins squeezed through but as Tim Lafai continued to dominated the battle of the Red Devils over on that side he was able to force the ball loose.
Samoan have an answer to every question
Everything England threw at Samoa in the first quarter was strongly answered by the Samoans. From the crossfield kick to Makinson in the first minute to the stabbed grubber kick searching for Farnworth, Samoa seemed to always have bodies in the right places to deny England. It was the same with set plays too with the Samoans nicely shutting down the likes of Jack Welsby. They’d clearly done their home work.
However, eventually England found a way through as Samoa continued to invite pressure on themselves with penalties. It came from perhaps England’s man of the tournament in George Williams who burst through finding Elliot Whitehead in support to score.
Super League stars making England pay
After Lafai scored the opener, it was Hull FC’s Ligi Sao who gave Samoa the lead again with a darting run down the blindside catching the defence out and sliding over. For all the NRL talent in the Samoan team it was two familiar faces making England pay.
England strike back
The start of the second half initially wasn’t the best but a brilliant bit of defence from Makinson saw England change the momentum. Then a well weighted kick coupled with pressure from Watkins forced Lafai into an error as the ex-Leeds Rhinos centre got his own back. John Bateman picked up the ball and scored.
The last time England played a semi-final in London, they lost to New Zealand and one of the tries scored by the Kiwis saw them produce a series of insane offloads to score. As Samoa hit straight back in the second 40, it was reminiscent of this. This try was all about the magic of Jarome Luai with the stand-off ducking and weaving through a sea of England defenders, passing to Junior Paulo who was tackled and headed to the ground only to flick the ball away and have it batted on by Luai to Stephen Crichton to score.
Lafai having a laugh
It was proving to be a great afternoon for Lafai as he got a second try. It came from a Dom Young error and a controversial penalty and then Young and Watkins shot out to nullify the threat of Luai but couldn’t as he jinked through and fed Lafai who fended off Jack Welsby to score.
As England fell eight behind the crowd sparked up and it resulted in a big hit from Mike McMeeken and an attacking set. Young broke down the wing but was met by scramble defence. Williams’ kick for Whitehead ended up being used for football more than rugby as it never bounced up and then Bateman’s potential second was denied after the kick landed on the touchline.
Power from Farnworth gets England back into it
Needed a break of some description it came when Herbie Farnworth hit a superb line and showed immense strength to twist and turn out of the tackles and get over for and give England hope again.
England pull level
A penalty for a late hit on Sam Tomkins, perhaps a soft one, gave the brilliant Makinson the chance to level the game and he did. A big moment in a big performance.
England push too hard
The momentum was with England at this point as they began pinning Samoa in their own end and playing the game at greater speed. But perhaps the pushed too hard. Last night we saw Australia turn the screw when on top and benefit long term, England went for the throat and threw an intercept from Victor Radley to Crichton who went 60 metres to score.
World class Williams
It’s been spoken about all tournament but Williams has been on top of his game in the World Cup. He showed it again as his dummy saw him tear through Samoa and send Farnworth away for a spectacular long range try and with just over a minute to go Makinson subsequently levelled it.
England nearly snatch it at the death
With 20 seconds left Whitehead broke through the Samoa defence, he attempted an offload but perhaps had he held on England would have had the chance to win it with a drop goal.
Crichton the match winner
Twice Crichton looked to be the match winner with tries but in golden point it was a drop goal from the right of the sticks after a controversial forward pass call that gave Samoa a win and dealt England a heart breaking defeat.
The worst 40 minutes of England’s tournament
After producing the best 40 minutes of the tournament so far last week in the quarter-finals England produced perhaps their worst half of rugby yet in the World Cup. Their usual efficiency in all areas, their power and attacking explosiveness was absent. They were fortunate that Samoa routinely gave away penalties to open the door for England to be in the game at the break. When Morgan Knowls is kicking on the last something is wrong.
England only have themselves to blame
That first half coupled with a few vital errors such as an intercept thrown at 20-20, an offload in the last minute when perhaps they should have held on and gone for the one and of course two errors in golden point cost them. Perhaps the forward pass was controversial and somewhat harsh but England let themselves down at the end of a superb tournament.
What next for England
It’s hard to assess where to go from here. A lot of today’s team are in the twilight of their careers so it’s safe to say that by the 2025 World Cup a large chunk of the team will look very different. There’s the bones of a good side and a sound philosophy behind them under Shaun Wane and ultimately today’s game represents a missed opportunity.