Gale: We’ll have to do much better than that

Luke Gale
Luke Gale
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AS he emerged from the changing rooms with a swollen black eye, it was perhaps fitting when England scrum-half Luke Gale revealed he had actually received the injury from team-mate Jonny Lomax during training the previous day.

Self-inflicted damage certainly seemed to the the order of the night for England on Saturday.

Yes, they eventually eased to a 38-12 win over unfancied Scotland but, if they repeat this performance against Australia on Sunday, their Ladbrokes Four Nations will be over.

Insipid, mistake-ridden and worryingly off the pace, Wayne Bennett’s side were 8-0 down inside 24 minutes; if it had been the Kangaroos they had faced, they would probably have been 30-0 behind, at least.

However, fortunately, Gale created two tries for his former Bradford Bulls team-mate Elliott Whitehead and converted both to give them a 12-8 lead to restore some semblance of order against the 33/1 outsiders.

Granted, the home side were more assured in the second period, Wigan Warriors half-back George Williams creating tries for St Helens centre Mark Percival and, with his 30th in as many games, Leeds Rhinos winger Ryan Hall, to quickly assuage fears of one of the biggest shocks in international rugby league history.

But, by all accounts, Bennett – the veteran Australian who faces his fellow countryman next week – was infuriated by what happened during a disappointing Test match in Coventry.

“The half-time team talk wasn’t the greatest,” admitted Gale, the 28-year-old playing only his third Test.

“Not as in it wasn’t good team-talk just it wasn’t a nice place to be in. We started poorly. Everything we said we’d do we kind of did the opposite. We built no pressure. We did a pretty good job second half but there will be a lot of hard work (needed) from here now to the Australia game. We’ve got to improve massively.”

When Danny Brough, the talismanic Scotland captain who had inspired their fine start to the game, was sin-binned just short of the hour mark, the Bravehearts were punished with further tries from his Huddersfield Giants’ colleague Jermaine McGillvary and – with his maiden international try – Gale himself.

Gale and Williams, recalled at the expense of Gareth Widdop, were paired together for the first time at half-back but it remains to be seen if they were auditioning for a place alongside Widdop in London next Sunday or as a new partnership for the Kangaroos.

Indeed, whether Widdop, the experienced St George Illawarra co-captain, was rested or dropped here remains opaque.

In his absence, Williams won man-of-the-match having come to the fore in that second period, although Gale, who kicked all seven goals as well as those other telling contributions, had his moments, too.

Asked if he thought he had done enough to warrant a place against the Kangaroos, the Castleford star insisted: “Who knows? It was a scrappy game and I wasn’t the best personally.

“Neither of us built pressure as half-backs in that first half.

“I’ll be working hard in the week and who knows what will happen.

“It was a bit of a bonus getting a first international try. Sammy (Burgess) reckoned he was out pacing me when he went through but I’ll have to watch the replay.”

As it stands, having lost 17-16 to New Zealand and following Australia’s subsequent 14-8 victory over the Kiwis in Coventry’s double-header, England must now beat the Kangaroos by 12 points on Sunday to be certain of a place in the Anfield final.

Or, alternatively, if New Zealand win by less than 30 against Scotland in Workington on Friday, Bennett’s side ‘only’ have to beat the world champions by a solitary point.

England, mindful of such scenarios, took everything they could on Saturday once they emerged from their slovenly start. Captain Burgess ignored the chance for Gale to accept another two points after the final hooter with a simple penalty goal by pushing for a try instead, a tactic that worked given Liam Farrell eventually scored from another Williams grubber and Gale converted.

It was a far more positive end to the way they started when Kane Linnett and, with a sublime finish, Matty Russell scored tries for confident Scotland.

The visitors, in their first Four Nations, did not cross again, though, until, with Dewsbury-born Brough – twice rejected by England – back on the field, Bradford Bulls’ Dale Ferguson powered over in the 69th minute.

England: Lomax; McGillvary, Watkins, Percival, Hall; Williams, Gale; Taylor, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, S Burgess. Substitutes: Clark, T Burgess, G Burgess, Cooper.

Scotland: Coote; Tierney, Aitken, Linnett, Russell; Brough, Addy; Walker, Hood, Douglas, Hellewell, Ferguson, Kavanagh. Substitutes: Cassel, Mariano, C Phillips, Brooks.

Referee: Gerard Sutton (Australia).

Attendance: 21,009.