Harry Smith delighted to see hard work at Wigan turn to England opportunity

By Sports Desk October 21, 2023

After delivering a stinging response to his critics by leading Wigan to Grand Final glory last week, Harry Smith is relishing the prospect of winning his second England cap in the first match of a three-test series against Tonga on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Wigan stand-off played an increasingly pivotal role in his club’s surge to the Super League title, culminating in kicking six points in their 10-2 win over Catalans at Old Trafford last weekend in the Betfred Grand Final.

It marked a glittering end to the season for Smith, who missed out on the prestigious Harry Sunderland man-of-the-match trophy by a single vote, and was all the more impressive given early season concerns over his inconsistency with the boot.

Ahead of the clash at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, Smith told the PA news agency: “I’m very happy with how the season went in terms of leadership and game management, and winning the confidence of my team-mates and (Wigan head coach) Matt Peet.

“I got a bit of stick due to my kicking, and some of it was probably a bit unfair. I thought my overall performance, creating stuff for the team, was really good.

“I never really over-thought it. I knew the work I was putting in would pay off, and I just had to keep looking forward and not backwards. I feel like I’ve really managed to make those improvements in the last few months.”

Smith made his only previous England appearance in a one-sided 64-0 thrashing of France earlier this year and knows his side face a different proposition against a Tonga squad stacked with talent from Australia’s NRL.

In the absence through suspension of regular captain George Williams, Smith is set to form a new half-back partnership with Hull KR’s Mikey Lewis, one of two potential debutants in coach Shaun Wane’s 19-man matchday squad alongside Leeds’ Harry Newman.

For more experienced members of the squad, the series represents the chance to finally shrug off any lingering disappointment from last year’s dramatic golden point World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium.

Smith added: “The Samoa game has not been mentioned much, because there’s obviously quite a lot of players in the squad who were not involved, but there are definitely some who still have that bitter feeling.

“It’s more about how we can move on with the aim of getting to a World Cup final in the future. It’s why we take up the sport, to play in the biggest games, and the difference between this and the France game is obvious.

“You can feel it in training, the intensity is much bigger than before the France game, because not only are you surrounded with really good players, but you know how good those are who you are coming up against.”

St Helens full-back Jack Welsby has been handed the honour of becoming England’s youngest ever captain on his home ground and will come face-to-face with domestic team-mate Will Hopoate in the opposite position.

Saints team-mate Tommy Makinson is another survivor from the Samoa nightmare and he believes Welsby’s ascent to the captaincy, in place of the now-retired Sam Tomkins, has been an inevitability for some time.

“I’m really proud first and foremost,” said Makinson. “It’s been coming and in his performances over the past two or three years, we’ve all seen what Jack can do.

“He’s a back-to-back Man of Steel candidate and all the accolades have come his way. He’s not really very vocal, but he’s honest, hard-working and more than anything he’s a good bloke, and that’s why everyone respects him.”

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    South Africa registered their second-most productive powerplay in the tournament so far, with Quinton de Kock proving invaluable with 49 runs during that time.

    In England's powerplay, they managed to get just 41 runs, their lowest such tally of the year, and though they pushed late on, they came up just short in the chase.

    Buttler admitted that in hindsight, it was South Africa's start that cost England in the end, despite giving themselves a reachable target.

    "I'd say it was lost in the powerplay," Buttler said. "Quinton de Kock came out and played with really good intent, and we couldn't really match that. I think we were about 20 behind them at the end of our first six.

    "The wicket did slow up, which allowed us to pull it back in the middle, and we were happy to be chasing 160. But yeah, that innings was the difference.

    "It's still a good pitch but a little slower than we probably expected. I'm proud of how we responded with the ball after their good powerplay, and Brook and Livingstone had an excellent partnership there to take us so close.

    "At one stage, we were favourites but T20 cricket is never that simple, and credit to South Africa for closing it out.

    "We know we're still in it. We played well today; we just didn't quite get over the line."

    De Kock, who finished on 65, was named Player of the Match for his impressive turn – he equalled the fastest half-century of the tournament (22 balls, level with USA's Aaron Jones), and broke his own record for the most runs in a powerplay by a South Africa batter at a men's T20 World Cup.

    South Africa remain unbeaten in the tournament so far and have put themselves in a good position to qualify for the semi-finals, and De Kock was pleased with how they got the win on Friday.

    "My plan was to just bat as long as I can and score as many runs I can," De Kock said. "That was pretty much it. I don't really carry or lose confidence; I just get on with my game. So that is what I focused on.

    "I thought we bowled really well, especially in the powerplay. We controlled it really nicely. Overall, we were pretty solid and to defend on 160 on a decent pitch is a good effort."

  • South Africa narrowly beat England to edge closer to World Cup semi-finals South Africa narrowly beat England to edge closer to World Cup semi-finals

    South Africa made it two wins from two in the T20 World Cup Super 8s with a seven-run victory over England on Friday, edging them closer to the final four.

    Quinton de Kock starred for the Proteas, but it was Anrich Nortje who ensured England could not win thanks to his bowling in the final over.

    South Africa got off to the perfect start, registering their second-most productive powerplay in the tournament so far, without losing a wicket.

    De Kock hit his half-century off 22 balls, eventually finishing with 65. However, they soon slipped away as England rallied.

    Despite an early over costing him 21 runs, Archer finished strongly on 3-40, helped by some superb catching from Jos Buttler as England eventually limited them to 163-6.

    However, England could not keep that momentum going when they stepped up to bat, getting just 41 runs in their own powerplay – their lowest tally this year.

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    Data Debrief: Records aplenty for De Kock

    De Kock has scored back-to-back fifties at the T20 World Cup, but his tally today equalled the fastest half-century of the tournament (USA's Aaron Jones also got 50 off 22 balls).

    His 49 runs in the powerplay is the most by a South Africa batter at a men's T20 World Cup, beating his own previous record of 46 against England in 2016.

  • As Carragher questions England approach, what does the data say about Southgate's substitutions? As Carragher questions England approach, what does the data say about Southgate's substitutions?

    Gareth Southgate's game management came under fire once again on Thursday, as England produced another underwhelming display in a 1-1 draw with Denmark.

    The Three Lions were second-best for long periods and appeared content to sit back after Harry Kane's 18th-minute opener, with Morten Hjulmand's rasping strike handing Denmark a point – the least they deserved.

    Former England defender Jamie Carragher was among those to highlight the lethargic nature of the display, saying more energy was required from the bench.

    Posting on X as Southgate made a triple substitution on the 70-minute mark, introducing Eberechi Eze, Jarrod Bowen and Ollie Watkins for Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Kane, Carragher wrote: "Pleased Southgate has made changes. By the look of England so far they are going to need real energy from the bench in every game. Disappointed Anthony Gordon wasn't one of those changes."

    Southgate's reluctance to use Gordon was a hot topic on social media, with England again looking lopsided in the absence of a natural left winger or left-back.

    Just 23.3% of England's attacking touches came on that flank, with 44.6% coming on the right-hand side, where Kyle Walker – not renowned for his attacking qualities – often looking like the Three Lions' best outlet.

    One major criticism of Southgate at recent tournaments has been a perceived failure to change games from the bench, but does the data back up that idea?

    As far as the Euros are concerned, yes. Southgate has made 33 substitutions in total at the 2020 and 2024 editions, with those players playing a total of 682 minutes.

    They have just one goal and one assist between them in that time. Both came at Euro 2020, with Jordan Henderson scoring in a 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine and Jack Grealish assisting Kane's header against Germany in the previous round.

    In 97 games under Southgate overall, England have scored 19 goals via substitutes, a paltry figure given the Three Lions have netted 207 times during his reign, playing 35 qualification matches against largely inferior opponents.

     

    Those goals have come via 13 players, with nobody netting more than two (Tammy Abraham, Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Grealish and Kane).

    Notably, only two of those 13 players – Kane and Watkins – are in England's squad for this tournament. Rashford (32) and Grealish (21) have 53 substitute appearances between them under Southgate but were the two most high-profile omissions from his party.

    Carragher also believes Southgate must recognise "football is about picking the best team, not the best players".

    While Foden has appeared frustrated while stationed on the left-hand side, Trent Alexander-Arnold has struggled to aid England's ball progression in an unfamiliar midfield role – only eight of his 40 attempted passes against Denmark were into the final third.

    Carragher wrote for The Telegraph: "Unfortunately, two of the best Premier League footballers – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Phil Foden – will have to be sacrificed now.  Introducing Alexander-Arnold into midfield in a major tournament was always a risk. 

     

    "It is a more physically demanding position than full-back, and, on the evidence so far, Alexander-Arnold has more time and space to utilise his passing range when he is in the hybrid role.

    "Nobody loves watching Foden more than me. But for England to come up with a system that works and complements everyone, he cannot operate in the starting XI with Jude Bellingham and Kane if they are all trying to occupy the same space and positions."

    Foden did not have a single touch in the attacking third within the width of the six-yard box against Denmark, and when it came to making changes, Southgate preferred to stick with a below-par Bellingham rather than shift the Manchester City star infield.

    Southgate's substitutions will be key if England are to grow into this tournament, and the data suggests he has improvements to make in that area.

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