Martin Gleeson column: ‘We don’t want to limp into a quarter-final’

George Williams in action against Lebanon. Picture: NRL Photos
George Williams in action against Lebanon. Picture: NRL Photos

England are under pressure to perform against France this weekend.

We got a win against Lebanon, but it felt like a step backwards.

Now, we have just one game to go before the knock-out stages – and the tougher opposition – and we need to run-riot.

France will be up for it, but they won’t beat England, and Wayne Bennett’s players need to use this game as a chance to really cut loose.

We need to show what we’re capable of, and if we do that, our quality will shine through and present opportunities – the same way it has from the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Fiji against lesser opposition.

In those mis-matches, the dominant sides have been making breaks from everywhere. England haven’t reached that gear yet.

The win was all that really mattered against Lebanon, but we don’t want to limp into a quarter-final – and we certainly don’t want our opposition to see that.

Confidence is a big part of sport.

I remember at the 2008 World Cup, we played PNG in Townsville and won a brutal game by a 10-point margin, but in the dressing room afterwards, we were deflated. It felt like a loss.

We justified it to ourselves that we won and it was the first game, but the truth was we expected more from ourselves. And I imagine the England players would have expected more from themselves against Lebanon.

Which is why they need a performance in Perth, to make sure they go into the quarters confident, and to send a message to their rivals.

I hope they learn from their mistakes; there were a few areas of concern in their 29-10 win on Saturday.

One disappointment was we didn’t accelerate away at the end.

Lesser teams will stay with you for a while, but once you get two scores ahead, their will breaks – and that’s when you need to twist the knife.

After Tom Burgess went over in the second-half, England should have kicked on, but they didn’t.

Last week I mentioned that England didn’t capitalise on their possession and opportunities because the Aussie defence rushed up so aggressively.

We should have adjusted the depths and timings of our attacks during the game, and tested Lebanon’s middle with angles – but we didn’t.

What did Lebanon do?

The exact same thing the Aussies did, racing up and jamming England’s attack and disrupting us.

Which is why our attack didn’t flow.

I watched the Aussies and the Kiwis play, and they looked smooth and precise. England didn’t. We looked muddled and confused.

Too many attacking kicks hit knees, we need a bit more variety in our kick plan, and– as Kevin Sinfield called on the BBC – put a few up to Ryan Hall’s wing.

He’s very strong in that area, just put the ball half a metre from the try-line and let him contest it, but I’ve not seen one of those in this tournament yet.

Bennett brought in George Williams because he wanted to have a look at him. That being the case, I thought he may have had more time than he did.

George did what he did well – changed a man-on-man situation into an overlap – but didn’t really have long enough to make an impact.

In a way, there’s little riding on this England match, because the chances of France winning are close to impossible, and so we will progress to the quarters.

But at the same time, we’re under pressure to perform – and I really hope we deliver a good performance.

Elsewhere, New Zealand’s match against Tonga should scale epic proportions. The Tonga-Samoa game last weekend was really enjoyable.

They play the game a bit differently, with a lot of footwork, power and second-phase, and it’s refreshing to watch. I was pleased to see Ireland go down to the wire against PNG – both teams have added a lot to this tournament, and it’s been great to see.

Samoa meet Scotland to decide the third quarter-final spot, though it would need a rugby league miracle for the Bravehearts to win – I just hope they aren’t embarrassed.

Scotland and Wales have both been on the end of some big scorelines, and part of me feels sorry for them, because they just don’t have the quality of the opposition they’ve met.

Last year, Scotland had a few more experienced players, and obviously playing in a hostile environment – and in the cold, mud and rain – helped them get a memorable draw against the Kiwis.

On a dry-track, it’s been much harder going for them.

The players are trying hard.

This isn’t a criticism of them; if I went into the ring with Anthony Joshua, I’d get battered no matter how hard I tried.

But when you’ve got a team with several Championship players up against team NRL players, the gap in quality is too big for effort to close.