In 2012, when Kevin Sinfield lifted the Super League trophy, he was battered, bruised, and triumphant. Leeds Rhinos had just won their fifth Grand Final in 6 years, winning the playoffs, and having finished 5th in the normal season for the second time in succession.
Sinfield himself had kicked 21 goals from 21 attempts through the playoffs and, at times, appeared to have dragged Leeds to the title single-handedly. Sinfield is now England Rugby Union’s defence coach. Their win against Argentina to kickstart their World Cup campaign had all the hallmarks of the Leeds side that Sinfield captained for so long.
Leeds’ Golden Generation, which won so many titles between 2004 and 2017, was built on ruthless efficiency in big games. Unusually for Rugby League, they would often take the points on offer, rather than pushing for tries. Scoreboard pressure can do funny things in big games. By adding penalties and drop goals, you can rack up a big lead almost unnoticed.
George Ford exploited this ruthlessly on Saturday night. He kicked 6 penalties and 3 drop goals, including a couple of mammoth efforts from near the halfway line. Ford had an excellent game. He pulled the strings of England’s attack in a way that no one has done for several years.
Ford Metronomic with Boot
England played the conditions better than their opponents. On a night when it was humid and the pitch was slick, it called for clinical play. Ford’s metronomic kicking allowed England to gain a foothold in the game, despite being down to 14 men, after Tom Curry’s early red card.
In defence, England’s attitude against Argentina was markedly better than it had been in recent games. Although he was overzealous in execution, Curry’s red was down to him attempting to lay down a statement of intent in defence. England continued to show this throughout the game, landing several crunching tackles to keep their momentum going. One hit from Manu Tuilagi on his opposite number, Santiago Chocobares, seemed to visibly lift the team.
Inspirational Sinfield not Satisfied
Sinfield, not satisfied with a much-improved defensive effort, was critical that England allowed Argentina to score a try late in the game. Sinfield spoke of the message it would have sent to the world, had England been able to keep a side like Argentina try-less in their opening World Cup match. This is typical of the man, always driving for improvement.
The great Leeds Rhinos teams of the 00s and 10s would take great pride in their defensive efforts. Leeds celebrated defensive sets as if they were tries. They understood the value of keeping games tight against the best teams. Leeds would turn games into a grind for the opposition, a constant cycle of intense defence, error free rugby, and excellent field position. These then allowed Sinfield to turn the scoreboard over, as Ford did so well on Friday night.
It has also been reported that Sinfield gave the England team “a rocket” after their friendly defeat against Fiji. Players have also stated that they don’t like letting such an inspirational figure down.
England’s Siege Mentality
Ex-Leeds Rhinos forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan has talked about how the Leeds Rhinos team liked to create stories to inspire them. For example, becoming the first team to win the Grand Final from 5th. This England Rugby Union side has a perfect narrative.
They have struggled for form for so long and weren’t considered serious contenders coming into the World Cup. If they can tap into the mindset that Sinfield and his teammates created, they can go far in this tournament.
After the 2012 Super League Grand Final, Sinfield said, “When nobody else thinks you’re good enough, or they say you’re too old, the lads seem to pull together, the siege mentality again”. This England side had been roundly written off following a disastrous run of results leading into the World Cup.
The game against Argentina shows that you should be careful about writing off any of Kevin Sinfield’s teams too soon.