Kruise Leeming’s pride as England withstand late French resistance in Perpignan
Reflecting on his first taste of Test match rugby league, Kruise Leeming admitted he found aspects of his England debut “unorthodox.”
That is not to say the Leeds Rhinos hooker, one of eight new caps in Perpignan, did not savour Saturday’s victory against France.
Another of the debutants was Castleford Tigers rake Paul McShane, the player Leeming replaced approaching the hour mark when rattled England looked in danger of seeing the contest turn against them.
In the end, no shock defeat materialised; late tries from Tommy Makinson and new captain John Bateman, who each finished with doubles, staved off the possibility of a fightback from an increasingly sprightly French side.
Shaun Wane’s England team had raced into a 20-0 lead inside just 18 minutes courtesy of tries from Liam Farrell, Tom Davies – the Catalans Dragons winger making his bow on home territory – Makinson and Bateman.
But their initial crispness disintegrated as their hosts eventually found their own rhythm.
Still, perhaps that was to be expected; England were missing a raft of talent and had only played one game together since Wane took charge in February last year.
As Leeming, 26, told The Yorkshire Post: “It was good. For us, it was important getting used to playing with each other.
“Sometimes, you can play together at club rugby all year and only start hitting your straps at the back end of the season.
“Waney was happy. We showed some good resilience in our ‘d’ and some decisions went against us which seemed to even it up a bit.
“He was pretty happy with how we went but we know we need to improve for the World Cup next year and we will.”
Leeming had spent most of the second half of this season playing as a makeshift half-back for his club due to injuries in the Leeds ranks but still did enough to be named Super League’s Dream Team No9.
With St Helens’ James Roby having announced his international retirement last month, Warrington Wolves’ Daryl Clark having undergone surgery and Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson one of those NRL players unavailable for selection here, he took his chance to impress.
But the former Huddersfield Giants player admitted: “It was a bit of a weird game.
“France were doing some strange things out there and playing a bit unorthodox.
“I got caught off guard in my first couple of sets with things like their markers diving out when you’d normally expect them to back off.
“It was different to what I’m used to in Super League with that sort of thing.
“But I settled in and enjoyed it. It was a tough game.”
Leeming had played against England in June when – not needed by Wane and with his Swaziland roots – he represented the Combined Nations All Stars.
“To say I was born in Africa, to now represent England in France, it seems like a mad turnaround to be fair,” he added.
“It was class: a dream come true. I’m really proud of the year I’ve had and this just topped it all off. I really enjoyed the experience and the camp was first-class. I’m ready to go again now; I’m ready for next season already.”
Hull KR stand-off Jordan Abdull and Castleford full-back Niall Evalds both showed neat touches on their own debuts as they looked to make the most of the absence of players like George Williams and Sam Tomkins.
But, as a whole, England, who lost loose forward Morgan Knowles to an ankle injury after half-an-hour, became too scrappy and ill-disciplined to fully capitalise on their early endeavours.
They were also reduced to 12 men when influential half-back Jonny Lomax was sin-binned in the 69th minute. That was a case of mistaken identity – it was Farrell who pulled back Mark Kheirallah as the Toulouse full-back chased his own kick – but it summed up their day.
France, to their credit, grew into the game and, in the likes of Arthur Morgue, six foot eight inch second-row Corentin Le Cam and Paul Seguier, they boasted some of the game’s most dangerous players.
On the day the 2021 Rugby League World Cup was supposed to begin, both sides will take positives from the 80 minutes as they prepare for the tournament now postponed until next autumn.
Wakefield Trinity centre Reece Lyne had a mixed day for England, being involved in some of their best attacking moments but making a hash of a gilt-edged chance and being caught out defensively on occasion.
Le Can and Justin Sangare scored France’s tries as they fought until the end and Laurent Frayssinous will have seen plenty to encourage him. It is just a shame neither side now has any actin for the forseeable future.
France: Kheirallah; Escare, Laguerre, Jussaume, Yaha; Mourgue, Gigot; Navarette, Marion, Dezaria, Jullien, Seguier, Goudemand. Substitutes: Pelissier, Puech, Sangare, Le Cam.
England: Evalds; Davies, Lyne, Hardaker, Makinson; Lomax, Abdull; Walmsley, McShane, Cooper, Bateman, Farrell, Knowles. Substitutes: Oledzki, Leeming, Currie, Philbin.
Referee: Benjamin Casty (France).