former national coach John Kear has called for a bolder approach from England as they bid to reach the Four Nations final.
England will go into Saturday’s crucial encounter with New Zealand in Dunedin knowing a win by 10 points or more would be good enough to knock the Kiwis off top spot in the group table and guarantee a place in the competition decider on November 15 in Wellington.
If England lose or win by fewer than 10 points they could be overhauled by Australia, who meet Samoa on Sunday in the tournament’s final round-robin match.
Victory over Australia last weekend would have sealed England’s place in the final and ended the Kangaroos’ hopes, but Australia overturned a 12-4 interval deficit to win 16-12.
Kear – the Wales and Batley Bulldogs coach, who was in charge of England during the 2000 World Cup – feels that was an opportunity missed and he believes Steve McNamara’s team need to be more positive this time around.
“I thought we were the better team for large parts of the game,” said Kear of last Sunday’s match. “But we suffered from the English psyche of not believing we could go through with the job. At half-time, we had them on toast and if we had continued to play like that I think we would have come away with a comfortable win.
“But we seemed to get nervy and play within ourselves and we let Australia into the game.
“I also thought Tim Sheens (the Australia coach) produced a master-stroke when he put Ben Hunt on and took a prop-forward off.
“That was very bold and very innovative and it turned the game.
“Once we got behind, we started playing and we were the better team for probably 50 minutes – that’s the first half and the last 10 minutes.
“But we have got to be bolder on Saturday and believe in ourselves against New Zealand.”
Only one of the tournament’s four matches so far has been won by more than 10 points – New Zealand’s 30-12 drubbing of Australia.
“I don’t think Australia against Samoa will be a shoo-in for the Aussies,” predicted Kear.
“It will be a tough game. Not being disrespectful to Australia, but this is the poorest pack they’ve had for a number of years.
“New Zealand dominated against them full stop and England dominated for five-eighths of the game.
“Samoa have a pretty strong forward pack, but all England can do is concentrate on their game.
“I think their psyche should not be just to win the game, they should have the confidence and belief they can win it by 10 points.
“They can’t shut up shop this week, they have to keep their foot on the throttle for the full 80 minutes.
“Last week, they stopped playing and they started going one-out. That starves the opposition of the ball, but we could have scored more points if we’d carried on playing the way we did in the first half.”
McNamara has kept faith with the players who lost to Australia, naming an unchanged side for this weekend’s must-win Test. That again means no place for Leeds Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker and Catalan Dragons’ former Bradford Bulls second-row Elliott Whitehead.
Leeds centre Kallum Watkins and winger Ryan Hall will continue in the starting line-up, alongside Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson. The side’s other Yorkshire-based players are Castleford Tigers hooker Daryl Clark and Huddersfield Giants back-row Brett Ferres, both named on the bench.
Kear said: “The changes he made for the last game improved the team. I am a great admirer of Michael Shenton, but including Dan Sarginson improved the team so well done to Steve for that.
“Sean O’Loughlin has to play, so him coming in for Joe Westerman was par for the course, but I would have gone with Elliott Whitehead this week and left Joel Tomkins out. I would also use Daryl Clark far more extensively.”
England: S Tomkins (New Zealand Warriors); J Charnley (Wigan), K Watkins (Leeds), D Sarginson (Wigan), R Hall (Leeds); G Widdop (St George Illawarra), M Smith (Wigan); G Burgess (South Sydney), J Hodgson (Hull KR), J Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), L Farrell (Wigan), J Tomkins (Wigan), S O’Loughlin (Wigan, capt). Replacements: D Clark (Castleford), B Ferres (Huddersfield), T Burgess (South Sydney), C Hill (Warrington)New Zealand: P Hiku (Manly), J Nightingale (St George Illawarra), S Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters), D Whare (Penrith), M Vatuvei (New Zealand Warriors); K Foran (Manly), S Johnson (New Zealand Warriors); J Bromwich (Melbourne), I Luke (South Sydney), A Blair (Wests Tigers), S Mannering (New Zealand Warriors, capt), K Proctor (Melbourne), J Taumalolo (North Queensland). Replacements: T Leuluai (New Zealand Warriors), G Eastwood (Canterbury Bulldogs), M Taupau (Wests Tigers), T Harris (Melbourne).