IT IS the question on the lips of many: does the mercurial Rangi Chase work for England?
Everyone knows the immense talent he brought to Castleford Tigers’ colours during the stand-off’s five years at Wheldon Road.
More often than not – too often, in fact – his magical skills and maverick quality would be called upon to destroy an opponent.
But Steve McNamara requires a little more structure in his England side and, therefore, the debate has raged as to whether there is a place in it for Chase.
However, he has become a mainstay of the team over the last two years and delivered perhaps his best performance yet in last week’s 42-0 rout of Ireland when he also scored his first try at the 12th attempt.
Chase is there again tomorrow for the crucial World Cup game against Fiji at Hull, alongside Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield at half-back, as England bid to secure second spot in Group A and a quarter-final against either France or Samoa.
There is a belief, however, in some quarters that the 27-year-old has had to “rein” in his natural game to adhere to the plan at international level.
“I wouldn’t say that,” insisted the New Zealand-born player. “The game plan suits the team, not me. It’s not about me or anyone as individuals.
“You’ve got to do what’s best for the side and I like it. At Cas’ I was touching the ball two times every set as we had to play like that because of what we had. But here, there’s that much talent I don’t need to. I do stuff off the ball instead – push in support, kick-chase for the team – instead of doing all the pretty stuff.
“I’ll do some of the stuff that fans and even media don’t see. I’m disciplined. We’ve got to get a good mix of structure and playing what I see; I play on instinct but I’ve got to get a mix of that.
“You don’t get praise for the little things but that’s what I’ve been working hard on, doing all the little things rather than the pretty things I know I’m capable of.”
Chase, who signed a lucrative four-year deal with Salford Red Devils at the end of the season after Castleford secured a hefty transfer fee, is lifted by McNamara’s confidence in him.
“It’s good he’s kept me there and it makes me think I’ve done something good,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep improving. The more ball we get and the more sets we complete, the easier it is for us playmakers. We’ve just got to make sure we do it consistently, which I think we can.”
Getting that try last week, when he won the race to Sam Tomkins’s grubber, clearly delighted him judging by his beaming smile afterwards.
Had his long wait without an England try begun to worry him?
“I focused too much on trying to set them up rather than trying to score them,” he said. “I had a bit of a drought at Castleford as well, so I think I have to start focusing on being a bit more greedy and running the ball a bit more.
“It was a good feeling to score that try. Hopefully, I can get a couple more.”
The last time he played at the KC Stadium for England was in a fierce Four Nations contest against his homeland which saw him clearly targeted by the disgruntled Kiwis.
“Oh yeah, Issac Luke twisted my leg,” recalled Chase, about the South Sydney hooker – and Chase’s cousin – who later admitted he tried deliberately breaking the leg for switching allegiances.
“But I sort of milked it because I knew he was twisting it. I played up to it. It’s not in my nature to play up to something but there was a bit of mischief there so I took it for what it was. I wasn’t injured.”
England won that game against New Zealand 28-6 and they would settle for the same result tomorrow. In a World Cup full of shocks, however, no one can be taken lightly especially a Fijian side full of power and no little skill. But they do have a tendency to rush up in defence which could leave Chase room to exploit.
“That’s the way I look at it,” he said. “They’re very big, physical and passionate. They play with a lot of pride, so we’ve got to keep our heads on, be smart and try and exploit their weaknesses.
“Every team has its weaknesses. We’ve just got to turn up and be ready. They’re capable of doing anything, but so are we.
“We showed a bit against Australia. It was just a few unforced errors and a bit of indiscipline that cost us there.
“We were pretty good against Ireland but we know we’ve got a lot more improving in us and that’s the good thing about it.
“This is a must-win game for us, though, we realise that too.”