ENGLAND HAVE proved they can more than match the world’s best, when they play to their strengths.
Yesterday’s 26-12 win over New Zealand at Hull’s KC Stadium was the perfect start to a crucial home Test series.
England were too conservative early on, but looked much more effective when they opened things up and began to offload.
That was an approach which caused the Kiwis problems when Leeds Rhinos did it in the tourists’ warm-up game and if England continue in that vein at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday, there’s no reason why they can’t wrap up the series with a game in hand.
New Zealand were the better team in the opening quarter, but England’s substitutes made a big difference.
The home nation went up a gear when hooker James Roby came on and he was England’s key player, though Brett Ferres was named man of the match after bagging a brace of tries to follow his hat-trick against France eight days earlier.
Thomas Burgess was also strong up front as England took control.
After their strong start the Kiwis faded badly and struggled to make any headway against a powerful defence,
Leeds’ three men in the England squad all featured. Zak Hardaker was solid in defence, Kallum Watkins looked a threat, but did not get enough possession and it was a similar story for Ryan Hall, though he ran the ball strongly from the back.
Things looked bleak for the hosts in the opening exchanges as the Kiwis – faster and more skilful – powered into a 10-0 lead, but two slices of good fortune enabled England to square matters at the break and they were the better team in the second half.
The Kiwis went ahead after just six minutes through big second-rower Tohu Harris, who just had enough power to get the ball down, despite Hardaker’s attempt to hold him up over the line.
Harris was sent into a gap by a pass from Peta Hiku after Adam Blair had also handled, following some dazzling offloads in midfield earlier in the set.
Isaac Luke couldn’t convert, but was on target nine minutes later following Sam Moa’s touchdown, off Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s short pass.
England’s first stroke of good fortune came shortly afterwards, when Josh Hodgson played to the whistle and scooted over unopposed after Hardaker seemed to have knocked-on from Elliott Whitehead’s pass.
Referee Ben Thaler scrubbed the tackle count, allowing Hodgson to cross, but then sent the decision to video referees Richard Silverwood and Chris Kendall as no try.
His initial instincts were correct, replays showing the ball had bounced off one of Hardaker’s knees before being knocked forward to Hodgson by Hiku.
Gareth Widdop added the extra, but Luke booted a penalty, for interference by Sean O’Loughlin on Martin Taupau soon afterwards.
Fortune again favoured England six minutes before the break, when they could have been 12 points down, but instead found themselves level.
The Kiwis seemed to have increased their lead when Hiku and Tuivasa-Sheck combined to send Jordan Kahu in at the corner.
Thaler thought it was a try, but the video referees overruled him again, awarding the hosts a penalty for obstruction.
That lifted them upfield and at the end of the resulting set, Ferres stepped inside past the Kiwi full-back from George Williams’ pass and Widdop’s goal sent the sides in level at the break.
England could have actually been in front, but for a stunning tackle by Tuivasa-Sheck on Liam Farrell and they did go ahead soon after the resumption.
Knock-ons early in the count let New Zealand off the hook twice in the first half when the hosts opted to tap kickable penalties, but Widdop took the two after an offence by Ben Matulino.
That was on 46 minutes and five later England received another penalty in front of the sticks, but tapped it and didn’t get to the end of the resulting set.
The decisive try came with 22 minutes left, moments after St Helens’ Roby had left the field for a concussion assessment following a challenge by Moa, which was placed on report.
Hodgson took over and it was his pass which forward Ferres collected to crash over for his second try, which Widdop again improved.
The Kiwis made a series of errors after that and rarely looked like getting back in the game, England sealing an impressive success five minutes from time when O’Loughlin trampled over Blair for their fourth try. Widdop maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot to complete the scoring.
The penalty count finished 7-2 in England’s favour (4-0 in the second half).
England: Hardaker, J Burgess, Bateman, Watkins, Hall, Widdop, Williams, Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs (all used): Roby, T Burgess, Cooper, Ferres.
New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck, Nightingale, Kahu, Whare, Kenny-Dowall, Hiku, Lolohea, Bromwich, Luke, Moa, Proctor, Harris, Blair. Subs (all used): Nikorima, Taupau, Matulino, Taukeiaho, Kearney.
Referee: Ben Thaler (England).