Five things we learned this weekend: Semi-final heartache

Neil Barraclough

One – Inches away from glory

How narrow are sport’s finest margins?

If Ryan Hall doesn’t lose his footing with only Kevin Locke to beat…

If Ben Westwood doesn’t lose control about four inches from the line…

If Hall gathers the interception effort that would have left him with an open field…

If Sean O’Loughlin catches a crash ball near that he would take 99 times out of 100…

If Kevin Sinfield converts Kallum Watkins’ try…

If George Burgess doesn’t go high on Sonny Bill Williams

Six moments, each contributing to England’s cruelest defeat. Six moments that will torment those involved for years to come.

This is going to take a while to get over.


Two – Shaun Johnson’s try; a product of the previous tackle

Of course, the biggest moment of all was Sinfield’s decision to shoot off the line 20 seconds from time, steaming towards Shaun Johnson.

On the tackle before, Issac Luke runs from dummy half and is tackled under the posts. Frank-Paul Nuuausala fills in at acting half and Sinfield senses a chance, calculating that Nuuausala’s pass won’t be as crisp as one from Luke; that Nuuausala’s labored distribution will give him just enough time to make the tackle.

Had Luke not darted on tackle three, Sinfield might not have made that call.

He’d have held the line and England would have probably held out.

How narrow are sport’s finest margins?


Three – Dignity in defeat

England’s players still looked utterly shell-shocked as they trooped towards the coach in the bowels of Wembley about an hour after full time.

Sam Tomkins and Kevin Sinfield both appeared to have difficulty talking for the first minute of their interviews, such was torment they were under.

Tomkins said: “It’s not that missed tackle that lost us the game. I’d never isolate one missed tackle for losing a game.”

Sinfield is as dignified as ever, even after a moment that could haunt his worst nightmares.

He said: “We made some strides as a group. We should celebrate that and wish New Zealand all the best in the final. Hopefully we can bring some silverware back in the next couple of tournaments.”


Four – The final countdown

The final, of course, will be still be an absolute cracker, even without England running out at Old Trafford.

Highlights of the menu include Cooper Cronk v Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran v Johnathan Thurston, Issac Luke v Cameron Smith and Kevin Locke v Greg Inglis.

A sell-out crowd, the two best rugby teams on the planet, and everything on the line: what’s not to like?

The 2013 Rugby League World Cup will surely go down as the greatest in the sport’s history.


Five – The last word…

Back to Wembley, and as depressed hacks waited for Steve McNamara’s verdict, one particular bearded journalist broke the collective silence.

“Would you rather lose like that, or like we did in 2000 when they hammered us?”

Nobody looked up from their laptops. Nobody wanted to engage with the question, too lost in their own thoughts of “what if?” Nobody except one man: Dave Hadfield.

“I’d rather we’d have just bloody won.”


Follow Neil Barraclough on Twitter @neilbarraclough

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