Following last week's narrow defeat against Australia, England fans were hoping for a much-improved performance going into their second World Cup game against minnows Lebanon. But, with the scores evenly locked at 6-6 midway through the first-half and with England failing to outclass their opponents, a 29-10 victory did little to inspire hope amongst England fans that they could go on and win the whole tournament.

Take nothing away from Lebanon

Yes, Lebanon should perhaps have been swatted aside by England sporting a team littered with Super League and NRL stars, but this is a national side with immense pride and character in donning the Lebanese jersey.

With veteran Robbie Farah partnering rising gem, Mitchell Moses, in the halves, Lebanon was always going to be a dangerous side to combat.

This was especially true given Lebanon's historic victory over France the week before and, buoyed by this win and with no one giving them a chance, the Cedars were always going to take the game to England. And, they did just that; the Lebanese pack, filled with NRL pedigree with the likes of Tim Mannah and Alex Twal, were far from outmuscled and regularly got their team on the front foot.

The England players could also learn a thing or two from the Lebanese; the spirit running through the Lebanese ranks was showcased throughout the game and was a joy to behold.

Nick Kassis' first-half score, for example, was celebrated as though Lebanon had scored the winning try.

And, the Lebanese never gave in.

Despite a 28-6 deficit, the Cedars continued to plug away at the England defence and got their just rewards with four minutes left when Jason Wehbe crashed over for a well-taken score.

So, what about England?

England, however, was predicted, before the game, by pundits and fans alike, to simply overwhelm Lebanon in every department.

Apart from a seven-minute blitz towards the end of the first-half when England scored three tries, England very rarely showed glimpses of the class that will be needed to win the World Cup. But, why is this?

Learn to go left

You've all heard the song Go West by the Village People. Well, England needs to step out of their one-sided attack and "go left". Too many times No.9 Josh Hodgson ignored Luke Gale - who made his name for club Castleford Tigers in the 2017 season down their infamous left-sided attack - and instead attacked down the right with Gareth Widdop. Now, don't get me wrong, Kallum Watkins is a brilliant centre and Jermaine McGillvary a brilliant winger - as epitomised by the latter's 25th minute try on Saturday morning - but Lebanon had wised up to the right-side attack after 33 times of asking.

The left-side of Luke Gale, John Bateman (centre) and Ryan Hall (winger) need more ball. Against Lebanon, when they finally did get a chance to demonstrate their talents, Ryan Hall scored in the corner after a fluent move had been started by Gale in midfield. Also, even giving John Bateman the "centre" tag makes one angry at the thought of him being chosen over the special talent that is Mark Percival. Bateman is a classy player, but he is a second-rower. Coach Wayne Bennett needs to realise this before it's too late.

Too slow

Luke Gale has been the target of heavy criticism from England fans.

However, this is unwarranted. It is not his fault that Josh Hodgson keeps ignoring Gale despite the latter's increasingly-frustrated pleas for the ball. In the two games that he has actually been given the ball, the distribution from acting half has been slow and laboured. When James Roby came off the bench against Australia last week, the Saints man offered something different; he got England on the front foot with his sniping from dummy half and gave Gale and Widdop quick and accurate ball.

It was no surprise therefore that England's kicking game and attacking seriously improved when Roby came on the field.

With Roby not even named on the bench for the game against Lebanon, the warning signs were there from the beginning. Hodgson is a talented player, but he overplays far too much. Just get the ball to the half-backs and let them do the playing. Paul McShane, Castleford Tigers' No.9, has impeccable ball distribution and was vital in 2017 for giving Gale the space and time to launch the Tigers' much-feared attacks. Hodgson needs to replicate this if England fans are going to see the best of Luke Gale.

Full-back issue

The issues continue to pile up for England. Too many times in the opening two games, the England full-back has been found wanting in attack.

Jonny Lomax - against Australia - and Stefan Ratchford - against Lebanon - looked like fish out of water on the big stage. This is what makes Zak Hardaker's indiscretions - suspended by club Castleford Tigers and omitted from the World Cup squad for a failed drugs test - even more baffling. Hardaker is head and shoulders above both Lomax and Ratchford and the disjointed England attacking play from the past two games has been clear evidence of this.

Neither Lomax nor Ratchford appear comfortable with the timings and placing that the team require. Many an error has been committed because both have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bennett even experimented with Widdop at full-back in the last quarter of Saturday's match with George Williams in the halves.

But, even he did not look totally 'at home' there either, despite playing there sporadically in the past. Running with either Lomax or Ratchford is a dilemma for Bennett and it remains to be seen which player can cement the No.1 jersey as his own.


Mike McMeeken, Scott Taylor and Mark Percival were included in Bennett's 24-man squad for the World Cup after stellar seasons for their respective clubs. Yet, none of them have even registered a minute in the two opening games so far. Push Bateman to the second row, give Percival a go in the left centre.

Chris Heighington did nothing in 2017 to warrant a place in the squad to start with; the fact he has played the opening two games makes one head-scratch furiously.

McMeeken should take his spot; a powerful 23-year-old with youth and exuberance on his side, he showed in 2017 why he should be given an opportunity instead of an "over-the-hill" Aussie.

Taylor also deserves a chance; in yet another Challenge Cup winning season with club Hull FC, he was one of the Airlie Birds' stand-out performers. Perhaps, Chris Hill - who was very lucky to make the squad anyway after a dismal 2017 - could make way for the French game next week.

England must improve going forward; a totally underwhelming performance against heavy underdogs Lebanon and a disappointing opening loss to Australia does not exactly leave the other competitors quaking in their boots. It remains to be seen whether England can topple their antipodean rivals.