McNamara looking for England’s growth to continue against Wales

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THE chance to give his new-look side further time to blend is the thinking behind England coach Steve McNamara naming an unchanged squad for their Gillette Four Nations opener against Wales on Saturday.

Although there was certainly a few areas of concern in last week’s 32-18 warm-up victory over France, he has resisted the temptation to tinker, backing that 17 to improve further against the competition’s minnows at Leigh.

They will need to do so markedly ready for the challenge of Australia a week later and it is understandable that McNamara has kept faith.

Another 80 minutes against Wales will give Castleford half-back Rangi Chase – one of three debutants in Avignon – the chance to see his promising partnership with Leeds Rhinos’ Kevin Sinfield blossom while the other newcomers Jack Reed and Chris Heighington did enough to warrant a further shot.

“We’ve seven very good players waiting in the wings,” said McNamara. “That’s certainly a far cry from 12 months ago when we lost players right, left and centre even against the Maoris in our warm-up.

“But we decided that this is the way we’re going to go.

“It is an opportunity for that group of players to rectify some of the errors they made against France and bring in some consistency and continuity.

“There were some great signs in our play last week. There was some obvious areas where we need to improve – our game management and our ability to apply pressure and keep pressure on the opposition. But we’ve certainly seen enough both in that game and in practice this week to suggest that the 17 will improve.”

McNamara continues with his decision to name just three specialist props – although it remains doubtful he will do likewise against the far meatier proposition of the Kangaroos – and is relishing the opportunity to take his country into a Four Nations for the first time on home soil.

“It’s a great honour,” said the ex-Bradford Bulls chief.

“We all know the potential of what we can create in these weeks ahead and this is a key game for us at the start. We need to play and perform well to give ourselves an opportunity further down the line of getting to the final and winning the final.

“We feel Wales will be a step up from France. They will be very strong and physical and will show great passion but we want to reach some standards we’ve set for ourselves.”

Wales have called up another part-time player in Geraint Davies to replace Gareth Thomas, who surprisingly announced his retirement on Tuesday.

England: Tomkins (Wigan); Hall (Leeds), Reed (Brisbane), Yeaman (Hull), Briscoe (Hull); Sinfield (Leeds), Chase (Castleford); Graham (St Helens), Roby (St Helens), Peacock (Leeds, captain), Ellis (Wests Tigers), Westwood (Warrington), Heighington (Wests Tigers).

Substitutes: Widdop (Melbourne), Morley (Warrington), Jones-Buchanan (Leeds), Wilkin (St Helens).