McNamara denies gambling on Widdop at the expense of Chase

England coach Steve MacNamara during the Captain's Run at Wembley Stadium, London
England coach Steve MacNamara during the Captain's Run at Wembley Stadium, London
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ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara insists he has no problem with Rangi Chase’s bizarre self-imposed exile from his World Cup squad.

They face holders New Zealand at Wembley today for a place in the Old Trafford final in a week.

However, there was no sign of Chase at the captain’s run yesterday after the stand-off’s surprise exclusion from McNamara’s plans.

The ex-Castleford Tigers player - who had started every game in the tournament – requested to leave the squad after being told by the coach he will not play against his homeland.

Chase is believed to have taken his omission badly but McNamara – who has opted for Melbourne Storm’s Gareth Widdop instead – maintained he had no qualms with the 2011 Man of Steel’s reaction.

“Look, there’s no issue whatsoever from me with him,” he said, with the player’s partner also expecting their second child.

“He wasn’t selected. He wasn’t picked. People deal with that in different ways and Rangi has been really good for this team for a long period of time now.

“But, as a coach, I have to make decisions that I believe are right every single week for the team and I’ve done that this week.

“I’m really pleased with the team we’re going to put out against New Zealand.

“Rangi’s asked for a little bit of time at home. I was happy to grant that permission so he’s back with his family.

“We’ll let him have the weekend back there and when we get back into camp next week, all being well, he’ll be back with us.”

England captain Kevin Sinfield, who has partnered Chase at half-back for much of the last two years, says he had spoken to the 27-year-old about his exclusion.

“He’s disappointed like the rest of the guys are who are missing out,” said the Leeds Rhinos player, on the eve of what he describes as the biggest game of his own career.

“It’s tough. Everybody within our squad probably could argue that they deserve a shot and to be playing. But I think we all realise too the quality we have got. He’ll take it on the chin.”

McNamara, meanwhile, has defended his decision to draft in Widdop, the Halifax-born schemer who has been left out of the last two games and played only briefly off the bench in the opening couple of group games.

He almost did not make the World Cup at all after suffering a horrendous dislocated hip while playing for Melbourne at the end of June and today will be his first international start in the crucial stand-off position.

Given the sheer magnitude of this contest – McNamara’s entire reign will be rated on whether he guides England to the final – it is certainly a bold decision but he maintains it is not a gamble.

“Not at all,” he replied.

“I’m really comfortable with it. I’m very pleased for Gareth.

“He’s had to bide his time and be patient and it has been difficult for him.

“But as one of his team-mates could probably vouch for – Cooper Cronk, playing understudy to Australia’s Darren Lockyer for a long period of time – sometimes you have to be patient before you get your opportunity at international level.

“Probably the bloke sat next to me is the biggest example of that. Kev (Sinfield) didn’t find his niche and get established in international football until he was 29.

“Gareth is only 24. He’s a great player now and a great prospect for us moving forward.

“Every time you pick an international team there’s big decisions.

“Rangi and Kev have played together for a fair bit of time, but I’m very confident this week that Gareth and Kevin is the right combination for us to go with and ideal for the game we want to play.”

Of course, Chase’s decision means it is yet another departure from the England squad.

Gareth Hock was sent home on the eve of the tournament for flouting an alcohol ban and missing training.

Zak Hardaker subsequently “asked to leave due to personal issues”, but was then fined and warned by his club Leeds for breaching their code of conduct.

When challenged further about Chase’s behaviour, McNamara joked: “I think I can hear that bus starting again.”

It was a clear reference to his infamous press conference at Cardiff when he walked out – citing he needed to catch the team coach – after continually being asked why James Graham was dropped for their opener against Australia amid speculation of further drinking issues.

There has, indeed, been a cloud hanging over England for much of the tournament given such off-field problems.

But McNamara said: “Sometimes you might think there is some issues because we decide to deal with issues.

“Some people might not decide to deal with issues in their camp so you might not think there’s issues at other places. We do. We have standards.

“We’ve had a real good campaign, our preparations have been good, the quality of our performance at certain parts in certain games has been good.

“Of course we’d have liked to play better and we will this week. We’re really focused and I’ve never seen a team as composed as it is right now. They are ready to play.”

Wigan Warriors hooker Michael McIlorum has been in Liverpool for a scan on a back injury which McNamara hopes will be eased in time for the final should England they prosper in London today.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk

World Cup semi-finals special: Pages 6 and 7.