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England v France: Has Bennett caught England's World Cup management madness?

Gamble . . . Gareth Widdop hasn't played at full back for England since 2010.
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England are massive odds-on to seal their quarter-final place but Ralph Ellis says there are worrying signs for the rest of the tournament.

"If England, who are now [14.5] to win the trophy, are to dent [1.22] favourites Australia they desperately need a big, confidence building win and Bennett is going into the unknown in his search for it."

England v France
Sunday November 12, KO 10:00


What is it with England managers and World Cups? Whatever the sport it seems the two put together are a recipe for chaos.

Decent, competent, professional coaches with long solid records seem to lose their way the moment the biggest tournament of the lot comes round.

Whether it was Roy Hodgson fielding a totally new line-up in Brazil, Stuart Lancaster not knowing his best half back pair on home soil, or Peter Moores changing his new ball attack in Australia, the record of absurd, panicky last minute decisions seems to go back years. Call it World Cup madness if you will.

Now it seems Wayne Bennett, manager of our Rugby League side, is the latest to catch the disease.

The Aussie who I thought would be a wise old head has named Gareth Widdop at full back for Sunday's deciding group game with France, despite the fact he hasn't played in that position since the Four Nations in 2010.

By rights it shouldn't make too much difference - the French are a shadow of what they used to be and England are just [1.03] in the match odds.

But after a lacklustre display against Lebanon, in the game where Bennett badly needs his team to set their standard for the remainder of the tournament, he's gambling on something he's not tried before.

Of course it could go spectacularly right. England are minus 34 points in the Handicap Betting. But there's also the danger it might sow seeds of uncertainty among the players in his squad, and after failing to meet the handicap line against Lebanon they really don't want to have another unconvincing display.

Bennett, who has made four changes including dropping Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins, has previous here.

He changed his half back line-up in every match of last year's Four Nations, but you thought that was to give himself a settled plan for now. Instead after two matches in which Widdop and Luke Gale have not really clicked together, he is changing again.

Thankfully the French have significant problems of their own. They put up a spirited display against World Cup hosts Australia but were still hammered 52-6. And Leigh hooker Eloi Pelissier has since been sent home for breaking a team curfew.

But even so if England, who are now [14.5] to win the trophy, are to dent [1.22] favourites Australia they desperately need a big, confidence building win and Bennett is going into the unknown in his search for it.

At least England should make it to the knockout stages. Scotland, who play Samoa on Saturday, are heading home after shipping 124 points to Tonga and New Zealand.

Their chaotic campaign has included Danny Brough, their captain of all people, getting sent home for being too drunk to board a plane. Luke Douglas takes over as skipper with the Scots [15.0] in the Match Odds.

So far the Pacific Islands have provided much of the entertainment in the group games - watch for [3.65]Tonga to maybe spring a surprise against New Zealand [1.41] who have already qualified.

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