Chase is certain where his loyalties lie as England aim to crush Kiwis

0
Have your say

The time for talking is over and Rangi Chase has only one aim in sight – steering England into the Gillette Four Nations final tonight regardless of what anyone thinks about his allegiance.

Amid all the intense discussion surrounding the validity or merits of the New Zealander playing for his adopted country as he prepares to face his native land, it is easy to forget he is the sort of spark England so often lack.

The gifted Castleford Tigers half-back may have made some blunders in defeat against Australia a week ago but that is sometimes the price that must be paid when tapping into such a vastly creative edge.

There can be little room for error this evening, though – only a victory will see England progress to next week’s final – but Chase feels his swift development on the international stage is building towards this defining moment.

“It’s a great chance,” he told the Yorkshire Post, ahead of his fourth cap of the autumn.

“It is my first experience of an international tournament such as this and I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks since debuting.

“It’s all been preparation for this game and, hopefully, I can help us reach the final.

“The first two games against France and Wales didn’t really test us but the intensity went up against Australia and we showed we can stay with them.

“There were things to learn from that and we’ve cracked on this week ready to show it against New Zealand.

“Now, I just can’t wait not only to play them but to get one over them, too.”

Chase’s confidence is high and he refuses to let the furore over his selection dim his intentions.

Given his three years with Castleford qualifies him through residency, he insists he has not spurned New Zealand as he prepares for the do-or-die battle at Hull’s KC Stadium.

“People are saying I’ve turned my back on my country, but I’ve never been given the chance to play for them,” he said.

“I’ve played for the New Zealand Maoris, which is my native people.

“But I’ve never played for the New Zealand Test team – the coach has said I never will – so I can’t see how I’ve turned my back on them.

“I’m just taking my opportunity to represent the place I call home.”

Castleford has become home for the talented 25-year-old who admits his time in Yorkshire has been the happiest of his adult life following a troubled upbringing in the tough town of Dannevirke.

A pathway to a Kiwi jersey was blocked by a host of stellar talent and New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney admitted: “It’s unfortunate that he’s coming through in an era where we have a lot of talented guys in that position. There’s Benji Marshall, Kieran Foran, Isaac Luke, Thomas Leuluai, Nathan Fien and Shaun Johnson. But we respect Rangi and if he’s wearing the opposition jumper, we’ll have to treat him accordingly.

“I’m sure if you ask Rangi he’s still a Kiwi – he just chooses to play for England.”

Chase is likely to be lining up against the mercurial Marshall this evening, the elusive Wests Tigers stand-off who was a former school-mate during that difficult childhood.

Just as the Kiwis will bid to cut down Chase’s options, the host nation must do likewise with the sublime New Zealand captain.

The reigning Man of Steel, however, admits that is easier said than done.

“There’s no way of stopping Benji – no special secret – but you can limit the opportunities he gets by working hard in the middle,” he said.

England know if they can prevent the aggressive Kiwi pack moving forward, their talisman will have less space and quick ball with which to strike.

“I’m not sure whether they’ll go down the middle or they’ll switch the ball around – they can do pretty much anything and we’re not going to expect a one-dimensional performance,” he added. “Players like Benji can put on quality plays and we have got to be on our game and be extra physical.”

England coach Steve McNamara has refused to confirm whether Chase will actually start a fourth successive game alongside Leeds Rhinos stand-off Kevin Sinfield.

With Gareth Widdop showing promising signs after coming on at Wembley last week, Chase’s place is by no means certain.

Chase threw an interception pass which led to one Australia try in the 36-20 defeat and his 20m restart kick also backfired with costly results.

He may be dropped to the bench – his pace and skills could be maximised when entering against a tiring defence – but if given the starting role again he is sure of exerting his influence and unpicking the world champions’ defence. The prospect of lining up against Australia again in a week’s time is alluring but he remains wary of the Kiwi threat, especially as the holders tend to save their best performances for later in the competition.

“They obviously get better as the tournament goes on but so do we,” said Chase.

“I’m confident that I can make it. I’ve got to fix a few things up but we troubled Australia last week. We put some decent plays on and, at times, either half got through or actually scored off them. It’s hard to beat Australia as you have to break them down but we showed we can do that.

“Against the Kiwis, we just need to do it more often. If we keep going through the processes it will click for us and we’ll gain success.

“Hopefully, New Zealand won’t get chance to come up with those special plays we know they can produce.

“Overall, though, it’s just exciting. This is what I wanted – the opportunity to play against the top teams in the world.”

Whatever happens, Chase is here for the long-term.

Having signed a new five-year deal with Castleford, and expecting a baby with his Wakefield-based girlfriend, he harbours no ambition to return to New Zealand or the NRL.

In the bigger picture, win, lose, or draw this evening, that can only be a good thing for English rugby league.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk