THE Martin Gleeson Column: Relief will make England stronger

England players celebrate with the Baskerville Shield
England players celebrate with the Baskerville Shield

WHAT a game!

The first two games might not have been the most exciting to watch but Saturday’s game was what this Test series needed.

I said last week that if I were picking the team I would probably make some changes and I thought the two changes Steve McNamara made proved the difference

Martin Gleeson

It was a proper Test match in poor conditions and it offered the kind of entertainment we’ve wanted to see from the start.

You could see how much it meant to both teams, both England and New Zealand showed their desperation and it’s a big relief to win it.

The majority of this group, except for Sean O’Loughlin and James Graham, have never tasted a series win, and some hadn’t even won a Test match before this series, but we’ve got that victory now and it will give the lads a huge sense of confidence. And the pressure’s off.

We won’t go into next year’s Four Nations as nearly men now. We absolutely had to win that series and now we know we can beat them and if we get selection right we could down there and cause some upsets.

While there is a feeling of relief, we always had that control throughout the match on Saturday.

I said last week that if I were picking the team I would probably make some changes and I thought the two changes Steve McNamara made proved the difference. As a team we stepped up and for me there is no doubt that was down to the changes.

Jermaine McGillvary had a great game. He brought the ball back really well and got us on the front foot like he does for his club. He proved to be a handful for the Kiwis’ defence when he had the ball.

And Matty Smith fully deserved his man-of-the-match award. He brought composure, organization and a great kicking game, both long and short. We looked a different team with him in the ranks.

His kicking game close to the line led to Elliot Whitehead’s first try and he was involved nearly every time we created a chance thanks to his movement in the attacking line.

Matty doesn’t come up with fancy plays but what he does is control games and his game management is phenomenal. He has all the strike players around him and he just needs to orchestrate that. He did his job to perfection at the weekend.

The number of times Tuivasa-Sheck had to turn around to regather a kick from his own in-goal because of a kick from Smith and see the wall of white bearing down on him really put us on the front foot.

We seemed so much more in control – we knew what was going on.

That’s not to put down the performances of Joe Burgess and George Williams, who not only gained valuable experience at Test level but held their own. But everyone’s a piece in the puzzle. It’s about field position, game management, discipline, minimising errors and taking your opportunities when they come. That’s how you win Tests, especially in those conditions.

Sean O’Loughlin was also brilliant. He has the ability to perform at any level.

He is as big as front rower, has the hands of halfback and unrivaled vision. He fully deserved to be named man-of-the-series.

For his try, he had a familiar set-up, linking with his Wigan team-mates and he had the Kiwis worried about the threat of his pass out wide. One slipped over and because Lockers plays with his eyes up, he was able to read the defence and he noticed one slipped. He dummied, came off his right foot and went himself, he comes up with right plays at the right times. That’s what he’s done for Wigan and now at international level he has come up with the goods and shown on a world stage why he is so highly rated. No

one deserves that win more than Sean, he is one of

best players in this generation.

It was also really satisfying to see John Bateman rise to that level. He was phenomenal playing out of position and as much as he has already improved, he will will kick on again next season.

He was up against one of best centres in NRL in Dean Whare but that left edge was solid all series. I thought he showed you can step-up to test level and he will only get better, especially in his preferred position in the back row.

Mike Cooper has also proved how much he has developed, and his stint in NRL has evidently done him a lot of good.

Much has been made of how many players New Zealand have had missing throughout this series but don’t forget we have had players out too.

For next season’s Four Nations not only should we have Sam Tomkins and George Burgess fit, but Sam Burgess’ return from rugby union will add another player into our ranks which will really strengthen the squad. We will have many of the same players next season and England will be stronger.

All the lads will be buzzing and enjoy their time off, and it was great to see England not just win, but win in the manner we did.