Seventeen months after taking up the reigns as England head coach, Shaun Wane finally got to pick a seventeen and see his side take to the field against a Combined Nations All Stars side picked and coached by former Kangaroos head man, Tim Sheens.
There was plenty of controversy about the game; clubs reticent to release players; a full round of Super League taking place this weekend; the very late announcement of the All Stars side; and complications around coronavirus.
England were big favourites for the win, but Shaun Wane would have been keen to not underestimate the challenge ahead.
The All Stars took five minutes to stun England with Ken Sio scoring the opener, diving in at the corner off a Jake Connor miss-out pass. Aidan Sezer was unable to add the conversion, the ball wide of the left upright.
A brilliant Liam Farrell try got England back on level terms as he found a gap in the All Stars defence on the half way line and outpaced Connor to go over in the corner and then improve the angle for Stefan Ratchford who landed the goal for a 6-4 lead.
After a stuttering start England were beginning to move with increased fluidity. On seventeen Farrell go his second, spinning out of the tackle after taking a Luke Gale pass, to ground the ball. Ratchford added the conversion.
The All Stars weren’t going to give up easily and on twenty-four Peter Mata’utia took the Connor pass and ran over the top of the last England defender to stretch and score. Sezer added the conversion to reduce the arrears to just two points. The game was becoming a real test for Wane’s England.
Sezer levelled the scores of thirty-one with a penalty goal after England were called offside by referee Child.
With seconds left on the first half clock a high tackle gifted Sezer with another penalty sent the All Stars into the interval with a 14-12 lead.
The lead was extended on forty-five after a Mata’utia ball strip the All Stars worked their way downfield with Jermaine McGillvary finding space to stretch for the line and score in the corner. Sezer added the conversion from the right touchline for an eight-point lead.
Seemingly from nowhere Morgan Knowles took a Gale pass, shrugged off one tackler and evaded two more to run the angle and score under the sticks. Ratchford added the conversion for 18-20.
A fabulous Kruise Leeming 40-20 on fifty-four gave the All Stars a set on the England line. After a short stoppage for an injury a Jackson Hastings high kick appeared to be knocked on by Connor into the hands of Ken Sio to ground. The decision went to the video referee who awarded the try. Sezer added the goal for 26-18 with twenty-three minutes left on the clock.
A McGillvary knock-on under a high kick on sixty-seven gave England a set of six on the All Stars line. Three tackles in a Tomkins offload found Reece Lyne who threw an overhead pass to Tom Davies to dive over in the corner. Ratchford added the conversion for 24-26 with just over ten minutes remaining.
Daryl Clark was held up over the line on seventy-two, but it was on the last tackle, so possession was relinquished. Tommy Makinson went down the left wing on seventy-five but a great tackle from Mata’utia pushed him into touch.
When Joe Westerman stooped to take and Gale pass and knocked-on with seventy-nine on the clock, the game was over and the All Stars had a narrow two point win. Shaun Wane will have learned a few things from todays game and some of those might be that England qualifying players figured prominently for the All Stars in their win. Tim Sheens worked miracles with his side in a short period of time, it will give Wane nighmares and plenty to ponder ahead of determining his workd cup squad.
England: Sam Tomkins, Tom Davies (T), Reece Lyne, Ben Currie, Tommy Makinson, Stefan Ratchford (4G), Luke Gale, Morgan Knowles (T), Paul McShane, Mike Cooper, John Bateman, Liam Farrell (2T), Joe Westerman. Subs: Ash Handley, Daryl Clark, Mikolaj Oledski, Joe Philbin.
Combined Nations All Stars: Jake Connor, Ken Sio (2T), Peter Mata’utia (T), Jermaine McGillvary (T), Jackson Hastings, Aidan Sezer (5G), Matt Prior, Nathan Peats, Tevita Satae, Kenny Edwards, Kelepe Tanganoa, Luke Yates. Subs: Kruise Leeming, Pauli Pauli, Suaia Matangi, Andre Savelio.
Referee: James Child.
Score Progression: 0-4, 4-4, 6-4, 10-4, 12-4, 12-8, 12-10, 12-12, 12-14 : HT : 12-18, 12-20, 16-20, 18-20, 18-24, 18-26, 22-26, 24-26 : FT.