How amusing it’s been all week in the run-up to the Melbourne game to read the reactions of the Aussie players and press.
Disbelief at their defeat to New Zealand is part of it. Even without several key players, there was simply an expectation that they would still be good enough to win. You get the impression that the Roos almost feel it’s their right to triumph.
There’s also been a growing unease at the Aussies’ realisation that it’s England that could hand out the killer blow to their final hopes. And there is no worse nightmare for an Aussie than that. As one Aussie reporter wrote: “The Kangaroos know…..a loss on Sunday would virtually end their involvement and nobody wants that to happen at the hands of the English. What more motivation do the Kangaroos need?”
England always knew they’d be doing it tough, as regards crowd support, on the tour. The marvellous band of England fans who’ve made the journey Down Under are doing their best, but even in the Samoa game there was little doubt what Aussies thought about “the Poms”. Virtually everybody in the stadium seemed to be a Samoa fan for the day, with every decision they got cheered loudly.
It was good to see a crowd of 47, 813 though – just a week after the so-called big draw of the Wallabies against the All Blacks could only muster 45,186 in the same stadium.
BBC TV are covering all of England’s games live and, although they are hampered by the kick-off times back home, got very respectable viewing figures for the Samoa game.
Half a million viewers watched it live, which is higher than average for that slot, and 700,000 watched extended highlights later in the day – making it the most watched programme on British TV at that time.
Live figures will be lower for the game against Australia, given the 5am kick off time. But anybody who set their alarm clocks – or just stayed up after a night out – to watch the New Zealand v Samoa game were in for a treat.
Suddenly England’s fright from the Samoans didn’t look so bad when we sat and watched how close the Kiwis were pushed. All the British journos watched together in one of our apartments and there was a fair bit of support for the underdogs.
There was also plenty of amusement that Samoan centre Joey Leilua looks like the long-lost brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It’s true, just google them both.
Although we felt for the Samoans after losing a second successive game on goal kicks, it was hoped that on the whole it would be better for our long-term chances if the Kiwis won. We had 24 hours at least to see if that prognosis worked out.
As far as Melbourne goes, it’s hard to believe that there’s a major international, of such significance, in the city this weekend. Aussie Rules and horse racing dominate and with this being Melbourne Cup weekend, it’s hard for rugby league to get a look in.
Some of the streets are closed off to traffic on Monday (Nov 3rd) for the Melbourne Cup horses to be paraded through the city, a day before the big event. It really is the horse race that stops a nation.
As for England, Steve McNamara is still working well with us journalists with another get-together last Thursday. After a formal interview for Radio 5Live and our daily newspapers, McNamara kicked back and had a drink and a chat with us all. Everything he said at that point was off the record but it’s amazing how good these sessions are for helping co-operation. McNamara gets to know how we tick – and why certain things are written – and we get to appreciate better the problems he comes across.
And so to game day and back to the wonderful press box pies. They truly are the best pies in the world (sorry and all that to the Wigan fans reading this). The plates of fresh fruit are almost as good. Let’s hope a few of the Super League press officers read and take note.
The pre-match warm-up game was a try-fest between Australia and New Zealand police teams, the Aussies winning 70-34 – with Phil Bentham refereeing. Not sure what his thoughts are on flying half way round the wold to ref a game of that standard. The vagaries and politics of the international refereeing system saw Bentham get that game, an Aussie ref England’s game against the Roos and a Kiwi ref the New Zealand game against the Samoans. Figure that!
And so to the game. Is there really no end to the cruelty that is dished out to England players and their fans?
In last year’s World Cup semi-final, there was last gasp agony at the hands of Kiwi Shaun Johnson. This time it was a last minute misery thanks to NRL video referee Bernard Sutton.
In any Super League game on any given weekend, Ryan Hall’s effort would have been awarded as a try. But under NRL rules – which Sutton was obviously working off – Hall didn’t get sufficient pressure.
Hall said he would go mental if he allows himself to think about it too much. We all know that sentiment. But let’s not forget a pretty impressive England performance on the whole.
Now on to Dunedin and some revenge on the Kiwis! Hopefully. If England win by 10 points they are in the final, irrespective of what Australia and Samoa do in their game. How sweet would that be.
Photo courtesy of Photosport/SWPix