Bennett: England problems can be fixed

John Bateman in action against France. NRL Photos
John Bateman in action against France. NRL Photos

There was a touch of deja vu for England coach Wayne Bennett after his side collected their second win of the World Cup without being totally convincing.

Leading 26-0 after 28 minutes in their final group game against France in Perth, England threatened to run riot but failed to press home their advantage and had to settle for a 36-6 victory.

It was a similar story to their display against Lebanon a week earlier when they led 22-6 at half-time but scored just seven points after the break.

Asked for his reaction, Bennett said: “We won the game. When they were good, they were good.

“It was the same as last week. The second half wasn’t as good as the first.”

England are now into sudden-death football, with unbeaten Papua New Guinea their quarter-final opponents in Melbourne next Sunday, and Bennett admits there are few chances left to polish their performances.

Asked if he was concerned, he said: “Not yet.

“We may not have any more time to get it right but it’s not something that’s going to take a lot of research to get right. It’s going to take a lot of discipline and appreciation of what we did to get the 26 points in the first place. It can be fixed.”

Bennett rotated his squad in order to give the rest of his 24-man squad game time before the knockout stages and he hinted that he is likely to revert to the team that began the tournament against Australia, with Sam Burgess almost certain to return from injury.

“I think I pretty much know the team I want,” said Bennett, who insists he is not yet looking ahead to a potential semi-final against Tonga, who were shock winners over New Zealand on Saturday to top their group.

“My concern is us right now, getting through today with no injuries before we go on to play Papua New Guinea next week,” he said.

England captain Sean O’Loughlin said: “It was very similar to last week, a good first half and not backing up with a good performance in the second half. It was another good result but the performance was still a little bit off.”

France coach Aurelien Cologni believes England are one of “four or five” teams in with a chance of winning the World Cup.

“I think there are other teams, like Fiji and Tonga, who can have a good finish,” Cologni said. “And I think New Zealand will react too.

“England need to fix a few little things but they will be in that group. It’s an open World Cup, it is more than just the top three now. There are four or five teams who can push the Kangaroos to the limit and England will be one of them.”

France recovered well after conceding three tries in the first eight minutes but Cologini admitted they have given themselves too much to do.

“I’m really frustrated,” he said. “We started fairly bad, our completion was too poor. The effort was there and we reacted after 15 or 20 minutes but that’s too late.

“We finished very strong, we showed good spirit and I appreciate that. They gave the maximum to the end.”