Fortune favours bold England in first Test win over New Zealand

THERE was a moment soon after England had gone 14-12 up against New Zealand through a penalty from Gareth Widdop where the hosts were presented with another opportunity to extend their lead following an infringement.
Instead – and despite BBC pundit Jonathan Davies imploring them to do otherwise – England eschewed another kick at goal and went for it with a tap-and-go.
Ultimately, their effort saw Liam Farrell bundled into touch around 10 metres out and as a result this may well be considered a somewhat inconsequential moment in the match.
However, there were two other factors to consider here. Firstly, the tourists were forced to restart from a scrum deep in their own half – England having dominated the second half territory by a nearly 75-25 percentage ratio up to this point – and secondly, it showed England were not content to take the so-called ‘safe’ option.
Soon after, in the 59th minute, they were rewarded when New Zealand were caught napping at the restart after a stoppage and Brett Ferres powered through, spun rounded and got the ball down under the posts for what was, arguably, the game-breaking try.
It was all something of a turnaround from the opening 20 minutes of the first Test of this series at Hull’s KC Stadium where the Kiwis had stormed into a 10-0 lead and looked, despite being without a number of key players due to injury and unavailability for this match and tour, every bit the number one-ranked side in the world.
New Zealand too had briefly adopted a bold approach, going for a short kick-off when England had got their first try on the board, but they soon abandoned that as handling errors and penalties mounted against them.
The conspiracy theorists out there may suggest the tourists were treated unfairly by English man in the middle Ben Thaler, yet although no-one would realistically believe he deliberately favoured one team over the other, international rugby league really should have neutral referees to enhance its credibility.
Still, Australian whistler Gerard Sutton will be in charge of the second Test at London’s Olympic Stadium, which should at least remove any doubts about impartiality.
Back to Sunday’s opening Test of the series though, and the try which set the ball rolling for England to make their comeback after an insipid opening quarter where they seemed to lack ideas and direction.
Fortune had gone against them when Chris Hill’s charge-down bounced kindly and was scooped up, setting in motion an attack which was finished by former Hull man Sam Moa on his old home ground, with the conversion putting New Zealand ten points clear.
Luck works both ways though, and after Jordan Kahu had a possible third try for the Kiwis ruled out due to obstruction, the bounce of the ball off Zak Hardaker’s knee allowed Josh Hodgson to pounce for England’s first score after 20 minutes.
Of course, had three New Zealand defenders not stood around gesturing to Mr Thaler for a knock-on, one of them may have been able to halt Hodgson in his tracks, instead of leaving a gap so big he could have probably waltzed through twirling a cane should he have so wished.
Although Isaac Luke kicked a penalty five minutes later – England captain Sean O’Loughlin ripping the ball away after a tackle had been completed – the home side finally put together some incisive attacking moves, finishing with George Williams putting Ferres through for his first score.
Having clawed their way back to being level at half time, Steve McNamara’s men never looked back – thanks in no small part to the contribution of two players from the interchange bench.
The old cliché about rugby league being a 17-man game these days has some truth to it, as evidenced by the introductions of James Roby and Tom Burgess to the fray.
Roby coming on at hooker for Hodgson seemed gave England’s attacks more impetus, with the St Helens man able to deliver quick ball from the play-the-ball.
Burgess, meanwhile, provided excellent cover for hard-running props James Graham and Chris Hill – both of whose contributions in defence and attack should not be overlooked.
First blood to England then, who sent out something of a message with this result, despite what anyone might say about this not being New Zealand’s strongest team.
But both McNamara and New Zealand head coach Stephen Kearney admitted afterwards their respective teams have plenty to work on. Regardless, it is all shaping up nicely for the second Test this Saturday.

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