Shaun Wane wants series whitewash after England prove a point against Tonga at Huddersfield
The hosts got the job done when they backed up their 22-18 success at St Helens in the opener with a scrappy 14-4 victory six days later in Huddersfield, but speaking afterwards coach Shaun Wane made it abundantly clear he feels his men aren’t getting the credit they deserve.
The Tongan camp were unhappy with the speed of the ruck during the first Test and also felt a wet pitch suited England. Wane took those remarks to heart and made no bones about using them to fire up the home team for the second encounter, a tactic which clearly paid off.
England haven’t played the most exciting rugby in their two Tests so far, but they have been solid in defence, made the most of their chances and there is no doubting their commitment, against bigger and very physical opponents.
Saturday’s game itself was far from spiteful, but there was one first half skirmish and enough going on to suggest the two sets of players aren’t exactly best of friends. That should set things up nicely for a final showdown in Leeds and, with seating tickets already sold out, it should be played in front of the biggest crowd of the series.
As an occasion, the second Test fell short, with a disappointing attendance of 11,210 struggling to create any sort of atmosphere on a dank afternoon. But that was of little concern to Wane who described himself as “really really proud,” after England came out on top for the second time in seven days.
“I was absolutely desperate to win that game, after what has been said about my players this week, about my team, my mates,” said the coach. “That really upset me, it was a massive motivator for us [Tonga claiming] ‘we didn’t win the game’ and ‘they don’t know Mikey [Lewis]’ and ‘the ground wasn’t right’ - the excuses about the ruck.
“To prove them wrong and to get two wins, I’ll be interested to see what the next excuse is. There’s been posters [of Tonga’s comments] all round our dressing room, it was my easiest day ever today.”
Even so, Wane stressed: “There’s no bad blood from us. They have got some great athletes, they are a very good team, but some of the things that were said, I didn’t understand.”
With the series won there could be a temptation to ensure players who haven’t featured so far get a game, a 3-0 whitewash is on the cards and Wane insisted there will be no easing off.
“This week will be really intense,” he pledged. “We have got a job to do on Saturday and the players have been fantastic in supporting me and believing what I am saying. We have to be obsessed about them [Tonga] seeing the best of us this week. We will have a strong team, they will be committed and really physical.”
Over the two games, the tourists have created more chances, but execution has let them down and England have defended strongly. Wane added: “I am not bothered about playing well; winning is the only thing and playing well comes second below it. We will have a look at it in a few days, when we come down off cloud nine and fix a few things up.”
The coach has promised at least one personnel change, confirming captain and first-choice stand-off George Williams will feature after completing a two-match ban. That could mean Mikey Lewis of Hull KR, man of the match in the first game, dropping out, though he again showed some nice touches in the Huddersfield meeting, particularly his kick to set up the second of Matty Ashton’s two tries.
Wing has been a problem area for England with former Huddersfield flier Dom Young having been ruled out of the series because of illness and Tommy Makinson joining the casualty list after the first game. Leeds’ Ash Handley was unavailable through injury, but Ashton came in at John Smith’s Stadium for his second Test cap and did a good job, though Wane played that down afterwards, stressing: “He has to be better, definitely. He is a really good player, but he can play better.”
Ashton’s first try came off a smart pass from Leeds’ Harry Newman and was converted by scrum-half Harry Smith, who is another who could potentially make way for Williams. He also landed a penalty in each half to make it 14-0.
Tonga finally got over the line with 24 minutes remaining through Tolutoa Koula, who had earlier failed to make the most of a flurry of chances. Other than the two tries, England’s best opportunity came early in the second half when substitute prop Mike McMeeken, who was excellent again after impressing in the opener, picked out Tom Johnstone with a surprisingly astute kick to the left-flank, only for the winger to drop the ball just short of the line.
England: Welsby, Ashton, Newman, King, Johnstone, Lewis, Smith, Burgess, Clark, Lees, Bateman, Whitehead, Radley. Subs Walker, Farrell, Hill, McMeeken.
Tonga: Hopoate, Tupou, Penisini, Suli, Koula, Lolohea, I Katoa, Fonua-Blake, Havili, Tatola, Frizell, Olakau’atu, Kaufusi. Suvs Teaupa, Fotuaika, Koloamatangi, E Katoa.
Referee: Jack Smith (England).