What can England’s Rugby League side learn from the British and Irish Lions?

Rugby league and rugby union are two very different sports but there is a constant in both codes: New Zealand and Australia are among the best teams in the business.

In league, the Kiwis are still trailing in Australia’s wake but in union, the All Blacks are by far and away the strongest nation on the planet – and Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions deserve plenty of credit for the way that they handled themselves on their recent tour of New Zealand.

Before the opening Test, everybody thought the Lions were going to lose the series and they were well beaten in almost every department in the first encounter at Eden Park. Gatland’s men knew that they were up against it but produced a resolute effort in the second Test to take the series to a decider in the return to Auckland.

Incredibly, the two teams were so evenly matched that the game finished as a draw; ensuring that the Lions avoided a series defeat to New Zealand for the first time since beating the All Blacks in 1971.

With the Rugby League World Cup, due to take place in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, fast approaching, Wayne Bennett’s men should take a leaf out of the Lions’ book as they look to defy the odds and beat the Aussies and Kiwis in their own backyard.

It won’t be easy by any means but England have the talent and the experience to devise a clever, tactical game plan that could see Bennett’s side go all the way to the final – although fatigue could be a problem after a gruelling Super League campaign.

In 2013, England came within a whisker of booking their place in the final against Australia but a late Shaun Johnson try ensured that New Zealand scraped through by the skin of their teeth. This time around, it could be different.

England have a decent win rate against the Kiwis, winning 38% of their contests against the second-best team in the world. Beating Australia could prove difficult, although utilising key men in certain areas could be the best way to go about tackling the job.

With the Lions series now over, Bennett can now take a look at how Gatland inspired his union side to go into New Zealand and compete with the All Blacks.

Most people, including rugby news writers for Sportsbet.io, predicted Steve Hansen’s men would thrash the tourists in the final game of the series but the Owen Farrell-Johnny Sexton combination helped to combat New Zealand’s attacking threat. Bennett should consider focusing on diminishing England’s rivals rather than placing too much emphasis on his own side.

Controlling both territory and possession are key to hindering Australia’s tempo and style. If the Aussies don’t have the lion’s share of the ball, they won’t be able to hurt England as much and that could give England the edge.

Predicting an England victory at this moment in time may be a stretch too far but Bennett could do a lot worse than rewatch video footage from the Lions tour. Focus and building momentum ahead of the tournament is vital; after all, you’ve got to get to the final to win the final.

3 Comments

  1. England need an annual three match series against the Kiwis, played at the same time as State of Origin. These games should be played in both England and New Zealand.

    • Once again we’re debating how to beat Australia and New Zealand after having loaded our super league teams with foreign imports in key rolls. We’ve got very little choice should Luke Gale or George Williams get injured. The young up and comers of our game don’t get the chance.

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