England happy to escape 'dark places'
England coach Steve McNamara has lauded the composure of his new-look team after they were forced to twice come from behind before defeating Samoa in the opening clash of the Four Nations tournament on Saturday night.
On the back of a completion rate of 54 per cent in the first half that improved to 81 per cent by full-time, England were fortunate to take a 14-10 lead into the sheds but still found themselves trailing 22-20 with less than 20 minutes to play.
The fourth nation in the Four Nations tournament had never before got within 20 points of England, New Zealand or Australia but after they came back to win 32-26, McNamara said the positives far outweighed their poor start to the game.
"I've got to say, I knew it was coming; I knew that sort of game was coming," he said.
"We're practically a brand new team. We've travelled from one side of the world to the other. We've had nine days to get ready in what were pretty extreme conditions for Englishmen against a Samoan team that I thought were really, really good.
"They hardly made an error all game, they had us under a lot of pressure and we had to dig ourselves out of some dark places at times to come up with the win.
"We've been in these situations before, we've been on the wrong end of the result but we've got so much improvement left in us – hopefully – and we know we'll need to do that for next week."
England continually allowed Samoa to dominate territory and possession in the first half on the back of some basic handling errors so to go in four points to the better gave McNamara confidence that they could get the right result against a determined Samoa outfit.
"I looked at the stats at half-time and we'd had 79 play-the-balls against us and only 34 with it," he pointed out.
"It was so lopsided it was crazy so to come in four points up at half-time I understood that if we turned that around that the game would swing around for us.
"It wasn't any sort of state of panic at half-time. It wasn't that we were playing well and getting out-foxed by an opposition, we just failed to hold onto possession which is one of the key targets we set ourselves at the start of the game and we failed to do that.
"It was probably relieving that we went in four points up at half-time, gave us a chance to catch our breath."
Back-to-back tries to Samoan hooker Pita Godinet gave the outsiders a stunning 22-20 lead with a quarter of the game to go. But captain James Graham said a controversial try to Joel Tomkins was a key turning point.
"All credit to Samoa, they really tested us today and that's what we expected," Graham said.
"We had to hang in there at times and come up with some big plays – [Joel] Tomkins' try off the bomb when 'Shenty' (Michael Shenton) knocked it back, that was a huge play for us and credit to the boys for coming up with them.
"For 80 minutes we weren't perfect but we showed a lot of good signs there and – and this isn't an excuse – but we've been together a week less than other teams with the Super League Grand Final going a week later."