Talking RL: We’re close... what’s new

New Zealand training at Wigan's Orrell base
New Zealand training at Wigan's Orrell base

New Zealand have won only one of their last six Tests.

One. And in their last match, they couldn’t beat Scotland.

Digest that, and then remember they reached tomorrow’s final ahead of England. How embarrassing.

We needed Wayne Bennett to make England better than the sum of their parts, not worse.

Yes, I know we’re close. But we’ve been close for ages!

I’m pretty sure a decade ago we had a terrific pack but a lack of depth at centre and halfback, too.

If there’s one sign of encouragement, it’s that England’s players will have a pre-season in January. And a Test in May against Samoa.

And there is a full-time assistant coach working with players during the year.

If England are this bad next year, there will be no excuse.

I’m not one of those who thinks everything the NRL does is vastly superior to Super League (against Australia last Sunday, it was NRL players Gareth Widdop and Josh Hodgson who failed to find touch with penalties).

But the contrast of two tweets I read yesterday was depressing.

Late morning the NRL put a preview to the Auckland Nines on Twitter. An hour later, the RFL tweeted – a joint-statement with the administrators about the bleak future of Bradford Bulls.

The appetite for international rugby league – and the value of terrestrial TV – was underlined by the viewing figures at the weekend.

Sure, putting Scotland’s clash against New Zealand on at the same time as the Scots played England in a football World Cup qualifying game at Wembley was a poor piece of scheduling.

But the highlights on BBC1 attracted a constant audience of 1m. And England’s game on Sunday peaked at 1.6m, with 700,000 more viewers than any other programme being watched in that timeframe.

After last Sunday’s 36-18 loss to Australia, one reporter afterwards tried to offer this comforting thought; that the spine of their team – Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Darius Boyd – are nearing the end of their careers. 
Those four players are brilliant, as much for their synchronised link-up as their individual play. Tomorrow’s final may be their last matches on English soil, making it well worth attending (as well as the novelty factor of going to Anfield, and the likely absence of Test rugby league on this soil for two years).

But consider this. If they were all absent, Australia could have called up Ben Hunt, Anthony Millford, Robbie Farah and Jarryd Hayne instead.

Does anyone really think the outcome would have been any different?

Australia’s rugby union team have two Fijian-born wingers in their team to face France today. To be fair to the French, they aren’t moaning about it... though they, too, have two Fijian-born wingers in their side!

Indeed, with England also boasting a Fijian winger for their Test against, erm, Fiji, it means the two games today will have eight wingers – and seven are Fijian-born!

Romain Navarrete speaks good English. Not fluent but certainly waiter-standard.

Morgan Escare? Less so. He’s taking English lessons as he settles into his new home.

“I know how he feels,” said Londoner Tony Clubb. “It took me a year before I understood what all the Wigan lads were saying!”

Clubb, sadly, says he can’t help Escare. “The only French I know, I learned from Only Fools and Horses.”

Mange tout, Rodney, mange tout.