ENGLAND head coach Wayne Bennett vowed to keep his side’s 34-0 defeat against New Zealand in “perspective” as they were denied a much-desired series whitewash yesterday.
The hosts were humbled by a ruthless Kiwi side who produced a world-class display on a poignant afternoon at Elland Road as the 100th Armistice Day was marked.
The series ended 2-1 and England still lifted the Baskerville Shield following narrow but impressive triumphs in Hull and Liverpool. This was the nation’s second heaviest defeat against New Zealand in their long history of meeting each other, the only bigger one being the 49-6 World Cup semi-final loss at Bolton in 2000.
But Bennett insisted the manner of the loss did not “take the gloss off” what had come before.
England trailed 18-0 at half-time having seen two efforts ruled out by the video referee and a third score suffered the same fate in the second period.
“That’s all part of it,” said the Australian coach. “We got to the try-line and a couple of occasions were not deemed to be tries so that just runs that way some days. It happened today.
I wasn’t happy with the performance but I accepted what happened out there and understand it probably better than most so I can move on from there, as can the team.England head coach Wayne Bennett
“We have to keep in perspective that we played two great games and played great football and that’s why we won the series.
“New Zealand probably played their best game today; it was their most disciplined with the football, they defended very well and they have quality players who all – bar two – played in the top-eight clubs of the NRL this year.
“It’s a three-game series and we just didn’t get it right in the last one. You never see a scoreline like that coming but it happens.
“I wasn’t happy with the performance but I accepted what happened out there and understand it probably better than most so I can move on from there, as can the team.”
England were missing a raft of players including three – George Burgess, Sam Tomkins and Daryl Clark – that helped force a thrilling win at Anfield in the second Test.
Bennett added: “There was a combination of things: injuries, being at our best for a couple of weeks and you need a little luck.
“I walked into the changing room and there was Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Tomkins and George Burgess sat there looking at me and we had a stack missing already so that just added to our problems. But the boys have overcome a lot this series. It’s my third year with them and I‘ve learned there’s a pretty talented group of footballers here in this country.
“By the end of the night, we had 12 or 13 players who either played in Australia last year (at the World Cup final) or here in this series yet weren’t in the team.
“So you really have a very healthy squad looking forward.”
Bennett said “without seeing the detail” he was “happy” that more rugby league would be played in 2019 after the Rugby League International Federation announced its plans.
However, the Rugby Football League has given the RLIF a deadline to come up with a workable itinerary for the 2019 Great Britain southern hemisphere tour.
The RFL has been pressing their RLIF counterparts for months for confirmation of the revival of the Lions tour – with Bennett as coach – and it came on Saturday at the conclusion of a four-day congress in York.
However, the RLIF says its eight-year rolling programme was only approved in principle and that next year’s tour is still subject to consultation with the NRL and the players’ representatives.
The Lions, who last toured in 1996, will not meet Australia next year but will instead play matches against New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
The RFL says it wants a full itinerary mapped out by Christmas. However, the governing body did welcome the RLIF’s decision to organise a Kangaroos tour to the UK in 2020 which it said was crucial in its efforts to raise interest ahead of the 2021 World Cup.
“The next three years are vitally important to our England teams and the game in this country as we prepare to host the 2021 Rugby League World Cups,” said RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer. “The development of the England team over the last 18 months, reaching the final of the 2017 World Cup and then earning three wins against New Zealand in 2018, has been so encouraging.
“There’s an obvious demand from our players and supporters to play a series against Australia.”