Lions open with win
The English Lions kicked off their Four Nations campaign with a convincing 54-0 win over Wales Dragonhearts in Neath.
The Lions ran in 10 tries to ruin Mike Grady’s debut as Wales Dragonhearts head coach in a one-sided opener to this season’s Home Nations tournament.
Tommy Harrison, Darren Woods, Francis King, Shaun Garrod, Nathan Larvin, Stephen King, Emmerson Newburn and Daryl Kay all touched down for the reigning champions to put the game beyond Wales in sweltering conditions at the Gnoll in Neath.
John Paul Brocklebank – who had already kicked five goals – finished with a hat-trick as the Dragonhearts understandably tired in the heat. The loose-forward converted both to finish with 22 points in impressive England’s 54-0 victory.
Wales were left to rue their poor discipline throughout the match as referee Darren Hayes repeatedly penalised them. This, combined with a plethora of handling errors, allowed England to monopolise possession from the outset.
Indeed, the Dragonhearts barely had their hands on the ball as the Lions raced into a 16-point lead in as many minutes.
Harrison and Woods both grabbed tries in quick succession before a splendid passing move culminated in Brocklebank crossing unopposed.
The Dragonhearts’ inability to keep hold of the ball for any meaningful length of time had forced them onto the defensive during the first quarter, but they briefly threatened to mount a recovery after Neil Dallimore was the victim of a high tackle.
It did not last, though, as Paul Emanuelli’s attacking kick was gathered by Kay, one of the England substitutes, midway through the half.
Shortly afterwards, the Lions added to their tally when skipper Garrod spotted a gap in the Welsh defence and ghosted his way through for an excellent solo try.
The stand-off was one of the game’s outstanding performers on the day as he controlled the action, with the help of his half-back partner, Chris Stephenson, and a dominant England pack.
Another try followed for full-back Larvin before Brocklebank’s third successful conversion from five attempts completed the first-half scoring.
Trailing 26-0 at the break, the Dragonhearts enjoyed their best spell straight after the restart and piled on the pressure in pursuit of their first points.
However, Martin Luckwell, Scott Britton, Alan Pope, Darryl Carter and John Sanigar were all repelled close to the line as England defended doggedly.
After surviving the Dragonhearts’ onslaught, the Lions were soon back on the attack and Stephen King ended any doubt about the final outcome with their sixth try 13 minutes into the second half.
Newburn, their elusive wing, was the next to benefit from his side’s superiority, and Luke Pennington’s superb offload, as he scampered clear on the right.
Further tries by Kay and Brocklebank ensured that England reached their half-century of points and began the defence of the Home Nations crown in ominous style.
It had been a harsh lesson for the Dragonhearts, but a disappointed Grady refused to be too critical of his players, who were still pressing on the Lions’ line when the final whistle blew.
“We’ve only been together two sessions, so that told in the end,” the coach said.
“England were a lot smarter than us. I think long-term we can do a job in forthcoming tournaments. All we can do is just keep moving forward.”
Grady admitted that the penalty count had been a major factor in the Dragonhearts’ heavy defeat.
“Penalties were a big thing. You can’t defend back-to-back sets like that. Obviously, if you do, that’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to get score-lines like that.
“We need to start controlling things around the ruck a lot more. Just iron those two things out and I’ve no doubt we’ll be competing in the next two games.
“I thought the effort was there from every individual. It’s just the application that we lacked. They’ve trained well, they’ve put the effort in during the game; it’s just the smart things we need to brush up on.
“I’ve just got to make sure they understand where they’ve gone wrong and understand the positives out of the game as well.”
England coach Ian Rooney said: “I thought it was a competitive game. The score-line probably looks a bit otherwise from the Welsh boys’ perspective, but I thought there was a lot of improvement from what I’d seen on the DVD of them last year and they should take great heart from that.”
“They’re clearly improving. Their clearly getting coaching now and they will improve because they’ve got some fantastic footballers down here.”
Of his own team’s display, Rooney added: “I thought we stuck to our task really solidly. I thought it was a good hit-out for us. We did well but there’s some improvement in us, undoubtedly.”
WALES: Ian Newbury, Dan Davies, Liam Watton, Kyle Scrivens, Lewis Stockton, Paul Emanuelli, Jordan Sheridan, Neil Dallimore, Martin Luckwell, Scott Britton, Alan Pope, Gareth Davies, Gerwyn Price
Substitutes: (14) Michael Harrison, (19) Rhys Davies, (17) Darryl Carter, (24) John Sanigar
ENGLISH LIONS: Nathan Larvin, Emmerson Newburn, Francis King, Stephen King, Darren Woods, Shaun Garrod, Chris Stephenson, Richard Huby, Tommy Harrison, Sean Emblem, Caldon Bravo, Luke Pennington, John Paul Brocklebank
Replacements: (14) Kieron Maddox, (15) Lee Roberts, (16) Chris Siddons, (17) Daryl Kay
Tries: Harrison, Woods, Garrod, Larvin, Stephen King, Newburn, Kay, Brocklebank (3)
Goals: Brocklebank (7)