Lebanon 10-29 England: McGillvary bite dampens English win

With cool temperatures, light drizzle and an advertisement for chips and gravy superimposed on the pitch, it looked like northern England.

And in familiar conditions at the Sydney Football Stadium, Wayne Bennett’s men certainly made themselves feel at home in a first half in which they ran in four tries.

However, after a meandering, frustrating second stanza, which saw them split two tries with minnows Lebanon, a sense of frustration lingers.

Ryan Hall touches down for England to extend their lead of Lebanon on Friday in Australia

Hall one of five try scorers for Wayne Bennett's side as they secure their first World Cup win

Hall one of five try scorers for Wayne Bennett’s side as they secure their first World Cup win

There was also a big potential negative – with an allegation of biting against Jermaine McGillvary placed on report. 

The Huddersfield winger has been arguably England’s player of the tournament so far but if he is found guilty of nipping the arm of Cedars captain Robbie Farah he will face the consequences. 

On Friday, hosts and favourites Australia put 54 points on France while earlier on Saturday New Zealand, who England are most likely to face should they get to the semi-finals, stuck 74 on Scotland. 

Lebanese Nick Kassis answered England's first try to level the score after 18 minutes in

Lebanese Nick Kassis answered England’s first try to level the score after 18 minutes in

The fact that Bennett’s side could only land 29 on Lebanon speaks volumes about the work that lies ahead. A win, as they say, is a win, but this was not pretty. It started well. After an opening nine minutes spent almost exclusively in Lebanon’s half, thanks to some strong running and helpful decision-making for English referee Ben Thaler, Kallum Watkins strolled in at the corner for the opening try. 

Bennett had called on his men to cut out the silly mistakes. But it appeared as though they were not listening. A forward pass, followed by a stupid penalty for ripping the ball out in a two-man tackle, put Lebanon down the field. 

Then, a botched attempt at grabbing a straightforward Robbie Farah kick through by Gareth Widdop giftwrapped a try for Nick Kassis. A self-inflicted punch in the face. 

England went back in front thanks to another break down the right, instigated by Luke Gale and finished by McGillvary while on the other side of the field, Ryan Hall was perhaps fortunate to get away with what looked like a knock-on when diving over the line, much to the annoyance of the locals. 

Regardless, after Widdop missed his first conversion of the evening, England were 16-6 up. 

Some smart thinking at dummy half from Josh Hodgson set up Ben Currie for a first international try on his second appearance, with Widdop nailing the extras. 

Almost immediately after the break came the flashpoint between McGillvary and Farah. After the England man was tackled, the handbags were out and slaps were traded, with Farah claiming he had been bitten. Replays suggested he may have had a case. 

With injured brother Sam, who hopes to be back after picking up a knee injury last week, watching on in the stands Tom Burgess thundered over on 55 minutes after collecting a neat short pass from James Graham.

That effectively killed the tie as a contest, which was just as well as Lebanon’s Jason Wehbe scored the only other try before Widdop dinked a drop goal as time expired. 

Aside from England, there are also questions for tournament organisers. A community of around 200,000 Lebanese live in the suburbs of Sydney and a noisy following, along with an impressive travelling contingent from England, created a half decent atmosphere. 

However, swathes of empty blue plastic seats and an attendance of 10,237 once again raised questions over planning. A lack of marketing for the competition has been criticised but the decision to play this match at a stadium with a capacity of 44,000 was baffling. 

Sydney is blessed with wonderful, historic and smaller venues which would have made this much more of a spectacle. Plenty to think about for all concerned. 

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