Leeds’s Hall stands by England coach and blasts disgraced Hock

ENGLAND winger Ryan Hall insists he never doubted Steve McNamara’s controversial World Cup selections but feels team-mate Gareth Hock let his side down by getting sent home.

Ryan Hall and England lost to Australia in the World Cup opener.
Ryan Hall and England lost to Australia in the World Cup opener.

The Leeds Rhinos winger spoke out after England lost Saturday’s opening game of the tournament 28-20 against Australia in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Coach McNamara axed Hock completely when the second-row missed training after breaking a alcohol ban and he later dropped star prop James Graham apparently for drinking, too.

Many thought such significant losses could severely jeopardise their chances against the Kangaroos but England actually fared well in a rousing start before, predictably, fading away.

McNamara sprang a shock by naming uncapped Brett Ferres in his starting line-up even though the Huddersfield Giants second-row only made his 24-man squad after Hock’s turbulent departure.

But he performed admirably, too, and Hall said: “I don’t think there was any surprise selections to us.

“It’s disheartening for Gaz but he has let himself down and he has let us down. We have to get on with that.

“He (Steve Mac) picked the side he thought was going to beat Australia and that was the correct side. Obviously he will look at himself but I will never question anything a coach does.”

Hall says they maintained the “correct mentality” in camp after the Hock fiasco and revealed all the players agreed to turn their phones off for 24 hours during a self-enforced media blackout.

That unity showed as they started in great fashion, quickly building a 10-0 lead with Hall grabbing his 14th try in just 16 England appearances and Huddersfield Giants’ Leroy Cudjoe also scoring.

“We know they are only human; we just need to crack them at rugby first which is something we haven’t done, certainly since I have been playing,” he added.

“We had a feeling going into the game that now is the time to start changing things around.

“We started off with the right intent. We set off in the right manner but fell off towards the end.

“That seems to be the thing we do against Australia. We play well for 60 minutes and then we die off towards the end. We had a lapse in the middle just before half-time, they got a foothold in the game and it’s hard to turn that around against Australia.”

The tournament favourites responded with four tries in a devastating 18-minute spell but hulking prop George Burgess clawed it back to 22-16 with a debut try to set up a thrilling finale.

“It was just what we needed but we needed to do it quicker,” added Hall. “We gave Australia too much easy ball and you can’t do that against the best team in the world. You can’t give penalties away like we did because they will score points against you. That’s what they did.”

Like Ferres, Dewsbury-born Burgess and twin Tom both proved their worth on debut but Graham should still return against Ireland in Saturday’s second Group A game at Huddersfield.

However, loose-forward Sam Burgess may be called up to the disciplinary today after being put on report for a lazy high tackle.

Regardless, England know they will now probably have to beat holders New Zealand in the semis to reach next month’s final.

After they lost a seventh successive game against Australia since reverting from Great Britain in 2007, McNamara conceded: “We are frustrated. We had to cling on at times but I thought we started superbly, played with some great energy with the ball and defended our line pretty well. But we gifted a lot of possession to Australia, which sapped a lot of our energy, and we gave away too many penalties. So we are sat here thinking what could have been and what maybe should have been if we had been a bit cleaner in those areas.”

He added: “If we want another crack at Australia then we’ve got to do something about it – we’ve got to win some games and put ourselves in a position to have another go at them.

“The actual result just means that we have to go into the Ireland game and make sure we pick two points up against them and Fiji.

“I’ve always thought we’ve got a team that is capable of potentially winning this competition if it concentrates and plays to its best.”

A record first day World Cup crowd of 45,052 fans witnessed a spectacular opening ceremony before Italy’s 32-16 win over Wales completed the Millennium Stadium double-header.

Yesterday saw two thrillers, as New Zealand held off Samoa 
42-24, while Papua New Guinea were edged out 9-8 at Hull’s Craven Park. The tournament moves on to Rochdale tonight when Fiji play an Ireland side led by Sheffield Eagles coach Mark Aston.

England match report: Page 6.