One of Coventry’s best-known historical figures is Lady Godiva who, according to legend, rode through the English town naked on horseback in protest against high taxes in the 11th century. On Friday night, it was the Kangaroos who stormed the city, fully clothed of course, and grabbed the attention as they thrashed Scotland 84-0 in their second Rugby League World Cup game.
It was a result never really in doubt in the damp West Midlands, given the chasm between reigning World Cup holders and minnows Bravehearts, who rely heavily on lower league players from English and Antipodean origin. The two countries have only played once before, in the 2016 Four Nations in Hull, and that game ended in a similar one-sided 54-12 victory.
But this time the damage was far more severe, with Australia racking up seven tries in the first half and another eight in the second. Nathan Cleary finished with a personal total of 28 points, with one try and 12 goals to his name, while Josh Addo-Carr claimed four tries and Campbell Graham scored a hat-trick.
Coach Mal Meninga sounded the changes ahead of the game, handing debuts to Matt Burton, Graham, Cleary, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo and Lindsay Collins. Considering the Kangaroos halfback at this point is Cleary, he’s a force in depth that Meninga’s counterpart Nathan Graham could only dream of.
Ahead of the game, a minute’s silence was observed for Redcliffe player Liam Hampson, who was found dead in a Barcelona nightclub earlier this week. Hampson was traveling with several NRL players in Spain and is a friend of Kangaroos mainstay Patrick Cadigan.
A poor start for Scotland in the sodden Coventry Building Society Arena, who accidentally took the ball into touch from the kick-off, set the tone. It gave Australia a set on the Scots try line, and almost a try after 70 seconds thanks to a kick, but Alex Walker managed to put the ball on the ground before Cleary could put the hand on it.
It took five minutes for the Kangaroos to open the scoring, as Cleary tossed a ball wide for Addo-Carr to score in the corner. The halfback couldn’t add the extras from the touchline, but his team had pushed 4-0.
It was 8-0 six minutes later when Jack Wighton brushed past a supple defense to hit the ground and the Penrith playmaker made no mistakes this time as the scoreboard began to shift to the overdrive.
In the 15th minute, Lachlan Walmsley knocked down a Cleary Bomb and Angus Crichton pounced for third down. It was a point per minute as Cleary made it 16-0. The Panthers star’s clinical kicking game was killing Scots, Matty Russell by dropping one in slippery conditions and forcing a retirement. Then it was Graham, who would have played for Scotland at this World Cup through his father from Glasgow if not for a late call from Meninga, who broke in for the fourth try. from Australia.
The Bravehearts started dropping more and more tackles, and soon it was Cleary who grabbed a smooth try between the sticks before converting his own four-pointer. Four minutes later, Addo-Carr got his second, displaying his trademark pace, then Wighton landed his own brace through Harry Grant’s pass.
It was 40-0 at half-time and the break was a blessed relief for Scotland. But the beatings continued unabated in the second half, taking James Tedesco just 55 seconds to cross.
Ben Hunt was next on the scoreboard, running on Cameron Munster’s pass, before Addo-Carr got his third of the night. Cleary held on to the lead, as Bravehearts’ Kane Linnett was booked for tackling Tedesco off the ball, with further tries to Burton, Yeo, Addo-Carr again and Graham twice.
With a mammoth 28 points in his very first appearance for the Kangaroos, the key question now is whether Meninga stays with Cleary against Italy and for the rest of the tournament as a first-choice halfback, or s he fights for his rival Daly Cherry-Evans. That’s the only potential concern for the Australian boss on a rainy night of green and gold World Cup dominance.