By STEVE MASCORD
ENGLAND showed more willingness to admit problems on the field than they previousy had off it after a deeply unconvincing quarter-final win over France.
While New Zealand and Australia crushed their first opponents in the knockout stages of the World Cup, the English were fortunate not to have conceded more than one try in their 34-6 win over a plucky France at DW Stadium.
England coach Steve McNamara has refused to discuss the banishment of Gareth Hock and Zak Hardaker and suspension of James Graham for disciplinary reasons earier in the tournament but was far more forthcoming in discussing his disappointment at the showing.
“Scratchy, very scratching – probably our worse performance out of all the games,” McNamara said, who said his men would have to improve “a lot” before Saturday’s semi-final against New Zealand.
“Australia, Ireland and Fiji – I think there’s been some really positive things from that. Tonight, we didn’t go out with any fear of the opposition in us and that didn’t help us
“We put in a very substandard performance. We’ve shown how good we can be. If we needed a wake-up call, that was it tonight.
“(But) there’s no major drama, there’s no major concern from me.”
France scored first through centre Vincent Duport – who hurt his shoulder in the process, meaning he joined on the sidelines hooker Kane Bentley who had been injured in the opening seconds.
The French nonetheless managed to prize open the English defence on a number of occasions but lacked the finesse to finish.
England led 22-6 at halftime and managed only two second-session tries, although the performances of wingers Josh Charnley and Ryan Hall was a positive. They each scored try braces, with Hall at the top of the tournament list with eight.
Among other selection posers, Gareth Widdop has again hardly been sighted in red and white for England and McNamara insists each team he picks is his best.
But he added: “The best 17 can fluctuate and change according to the opposition … regardless of the performance tonight, that 17 may not have been the best 17 to play New Zealand the week after.”
France’s Engish coach Richard Agar, tried to be diplomatic when asked if he still believed England could beat New Zealand in Saturday’s semi-final.
“They’ll need to improve,” he said. “They’ll have that little bit of fear in their bellies too, which they probably didn’t have at stages tonight
“The other two teams, from what I’ve seen and what we’ve all seen, deserve to be down as favourites.”
One England player with a lot on his mind going into the clash with the Kiwis is young forward Liam Farrell, the cousin of former Golden Boot winner Andy Farrel who idolises Sonny Bill Williams.
“I don’t think you can look at the scorelines too much … if we contend with New Zealand’s forward pack and control them, we stand a good chance of winning,” Farrell told Fairfax Media.
“Everyone’s talking about (Williams). To me, he is the superstar of the game. I’ve watched him since being a kid. I’ve loved watching him play. It’s going to be a massive task for us.
“As a second rower myself, I like to assess myself against people like that.”
This England side’s unusual relationship with the media was still evident: captain Kevin Sinfield said: “This press room’s the busiest I’ve seen after any of our internationals this year.
“You’re all looking for a line but we just need to be better – and we will be.”
ENGLAND 34 (Ryan Hall 2, Josh Charnley 2, Sean O’Loughlin, Brett Ferres tries; Kevin Sinfield 5 goals) beat FRANCE 6 (Vincent Duport try; Thomas Bosc goal) at DW Stadium. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 22,276
Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD