x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

England has lot to catch up when it comes to rugby

The loss to the Exiles is just another example that the English game is lacking depth and skill.

James Graham, who showed some steel for England, is tackled by Kyle Leuluai of Exiles.
James Graham, who showed some steel for England, is tackled by Kyle Leuluai of Exiles.

The myth that English rugby league is raising its game to match heavyweight international sides Australia and New Zealand was well and truly shattered last weekend.

England's best were beaten by a side made up of imports to Super League who had never before played together as a team.

And overseas players are rarely top internationals, certainly in the case of Australia. They are more likely to be men nearing the end of their rugby careers or who have decided they are probably never going to be capped by their country.

Exiles players such as the Wigan Warriors' Pat Richards, Super League's reigning Man of Steel, and Brett Hodgson, the Warrington Wolves full-back, are stars of the English game but have never had an invitation to represent Australia.

Of the players who have been capped, Danny Buderus, the Leeds Rhinos hooker, and Craig Fitzgibbon, the Hull FC forward, are both aged 33. Buderus won the last of his 25 Australia caps back in 2006 and Fitzgibbon last played for the green and golds in 2009. Glenn Morrison, the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats captain, is 35 and has been a professional for more than 15 years without gaining international honours with his native Australia, yet he performed better than most of the England side.

The only player in the invitational side selected by either Australia or New Zealand for last autumns Four Nations series was Wigan's Thomas Leuluai.

Yet collectively, the Exiles thoroughly outplayed England and the win was far more convincing than the 16-12 scoreline suggests.

In a way it was a good thing they lost to a last-minute try by Wigan's George Carmont because victory would only have brought more false hope.

Instead the result highlights the shallowness of the talent pool in the English game.

One of the few English players with any real fire in his belly was James Graham, the St Helens forward, and he will be plying his trade with the Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL next season.

The trouble with England is that they come up short far too often on the international stage.

Super League is highly competitive when the teams play among themselves but it is more akin to English football's second tier Championship, another hard fought division but light years behind the Premier League in terms of player quality.

The game was staged as a warm-up for the Four Nations in the autumn but on this showing fans must be fearing the worst when they play the Kiwis and Kangaroos.