‘Embarrassing, like Academy game’: England icons, Super League coaches’ scathing reaction to Test furore

Aaron Bower

Some of English rugby league’s biggest names have expressed their dismay about the state international rugby league appears to find itself in – and leading Super League coaches have also contributed to the debate.

England’s victory in France last weekend was heavily overshadowed by a disappointing buildup and a real lack of interest from the public in the fixture.

And a number of key figures have had their say this week – with the hope that the outrage which has been generated will lead to a discernible change in the fortunes of the international game.

Perhaps the most vociferous and outspoken comments came from England’s record cap holder: prop James Graham. Speaking on his podcast, The Bye Round, Graham lambasted the Test – calling it ’embarrassing’.

“I’m actually embarrassed about England rugby league and the crowd, but I don’t even know if you can call it that. They played France and I don’t even know if I want to highlight this because it is that embarrassing.

“It was disgraceful. It actually p****d me off. It was so so embarrassing. For it to be like that, there’s no excuse. You cannot offer me an excuse to why you play a game in Toulouse a double-header against France. If you had a look at it, you’d be shocked at how bad it is.

“I’ve not even watched any of the play because there’s no appeal to watch it. I wanted to get that off my chest because it’s been p*****g me off so as you can probably tell.”

Another England international, Kevin Brown, did not hold back either: likening the occasion to an ‘academy game’ in an interview with The Mirror.

“It left me really worried. It was like an academy game; there was no one there, no atmosphere and it wasn’t on TV. It was streamed but that started buffering. It looked like a curtain-raiser. It actually was because Toulouse played Featherstone afterwards. I was really disappointed. The people I really felt for were the players.

“I’ve played in games against France and there’s been some great experiences but that wasn’t one of them. I just felt really sorry for the lads who’ve never had an international experience for that to be their first taste. It should be amazing.

“But, for me, those players who played in France haven’t really had an experience that warrants being an England player yet. International rugby league is supposed to be a step up. But, in my eyes, that was a step down from Super League.”

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The mood was reflected among Super League coaches too – with the most notable comments coming from Hull KR coach Willie Peters. He admitted the game was ’embarrassing’ and suggested some coaches may now think twice about releasing players to play in such low-key occasions.

“I’ve heard some comments about it being embarrassing and to be honest, I totally agree,” Peters said. “As a coach, I want my players to play international rugby and would never hold a player back from playing for their country. For so many different reasons, but most of all because it should be the highest honour.

“I would never want to not let my players play for their country, but certainly some coaches now will be looking and going: ‘Why would we let our players go there with the injury risk if people aren’t going to fully buy into what it’s all about?”

Another former England international, St Helens coach Paul Wellens, told Love Rugby League: “England rugby league want international fixtures and they want to play big international fixtures. It’s something for the international board to get a grip of and move it forwards.

“Having been involved in the setup for a number of years as a player and a coach, I know the appetite is there for big games.”

And his Wigan counterpart Matt Peet said: “When these players have worked to reach what is the pinnacle of the sport, you want them to be playing in front of big crowds on television. When that doesn’t happen, you’re disappointed for the players more than anything.

“I know we’ve committed to games against France at the moment, and once we do that, I think it’s important that we stick to it.”

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