FORMER Wigan and Great Britain centre Martin Gleeson dissects England’s Test opener - and picks out areas to improve in London...
The best part of Sunday’s opening Test win?
It was only a six or seven out of 10 performance. We’ve got a lot of improvement in us.
But to play like that and to still get the win, by rolling up our sleeves and bashing them about a bit, is hugely encouraging.
Obviously, England were slow out of the blocks in going 10-0 down.
The times the Kiwis pressured our line can be traced back to poor kicks. I could see the logic of trying to put the ball high and meet Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as he caught it. But if you’re going to use that ploy, the kicks need to be on the money; they weren’t, and the back-three were able to collect uncontested, look at the line before they set off and get their side good early field position.
But what I liked about the game was the way the halfbacks reassessed mid-game, and came up with an alternative kicking strategy. That’s what you want your halfbacks to do – fix on the go.
In the second-half, particularly, George Williams put in some good kicks. Throw into the mix the two nice passes for tries in the first-half, and he will take a lot from the experience of his first major Test.
As the first-half went on they gained some momentum, and a big factor of that was their bench; Tom Burgess, especially, made plenty of metres and James Roby was able to pierce the line on the back of that.
The big men really stood up in the second-half – James Graham, Sean O’Loughlin – and drained the Kiwis of their energy, and it’s no coincidence that’s when the errors and penalties crept into New Zealand’s game.
It’s hard to be critical after a 26-12 win, but I’d like to see our edges get more involved in the second Test.
Kallum Watkins is the best centre in Super League but he’s not had a chance to replicate that form on the Test stage yet. I’d like to see him brought into the game a bit.
Ryan Hall was easily the best of the back three. He made a couple of great defensive plays and was strong bringing the ball back.
That’s why, last week, I said Hall would be one of my starters in the England side.
And all the others I mentioned – Graham, Roby, O’Loughlin – stood up, too.
Another I picked out was Liam Farrell.
He’s an outstanding player. Deceptively quick, agile, defensively strong, fit – he used to blitz the fitness tests when I was at Wigan – he’s a very solid, dependable player who doesn’t cut corners. And in Test matches you really value qualities like consistency and hard work; you’d rather have a very good, all-round player with a solid base, than a player who can create a flash of magic but then mess the next three or four things up.
The ball didn’t go his way in the opening Test, but – aside from a couple penalties – he did nothing wrong.
It’s not always about the brilliant things you do, but limiting their brilliance, too. The left-side was defensively stronger than the right.
Both teams will be better for the run, and I’m expecting a higher-quality Test on Saturday.
If the Kiwis try and tighten up the middle – where they were dominated in Hull – then it may leave them vulnerable to be exploited out wide.
Will Steve McNamara make changes to his side?
I think he may stick with Burgess on the left wing, but let him know that a bit more is expected from him now he’s had his first taste.
Huddersfield’s Jermaine McGillvary will be keen to get his chance. Brett Ferres made an impact, not just with his two tries, and has done enough to earn the right-side second-row spot from Elliot Whitehead.
And, presuming everyone is fit, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben Westwood replaced Whitehead in the squad; the Warrington forward brings a confrontational style which can trouble the Kiwis.
Roby did really well and, interestingly, after he took a knock he came straight back on as soon as he’d passed his head-test.
McNamara obviously realised they were better with him on the pitch.
Personally, I’d start with Roby at No.9, and just play Hodgson for short spells, maybe a few minutes either side of half-time.
McNamara even has the option of playing Roby for 80 minutes if he wants. Robes is ridiculously fit. At St Helens, he’d turn up for training after a six-week break, do a bleep test and finish it. And he’d not break sweat! He’s a freak – he simply is not able to get tired.
England will be confident of victory, and rightly so, because they won and they know they’ve still got a couple of gears left to go. Hopefully they can brush up on certain areas, bring the backs into the game a bit more, and we can wrap the series up with a game to go.