James Pearson looks at whether the Autumn International Series will prove a worthwhile exercise for England ahead of next year's World Cup
Last Updated: 06/11/12 10:37am
Steve McNamara's men are warming up for the 2013 World Cup on home soil with end of season matches against France and Wales, while their stars of the future the England Knights have been playing the likes of Ireland and Scotland.
It is normally at this time of the year that the finest the northern hemisphere has to offer face the might of Australia and New Zealand, but not this year as the Kangaroos and Kiwis opted to play a one-off Test down under, which was won by Australia.
England have more talent than ever to choose from with McNamara actually without the likes of James Graham, Sam Burges and Gareth Widdop, NRL stars and serious contenders for starting places.
McNamara's men have won their two group games against Wales and France and will now take on Aurelien Cologni's French squad again in Sunday's final, courtesy of Les Tricolores' 20-6 win over Wales in Lens.
However, the games have effectively been little more than training ground exercises with England running out comfortable winners in both, the only surprise being that they actually conceded three tries over the course of the games.
Wales crossed the try line twice, but they shipped in 14 at the other end as England cruised to an 80-12 success while France put up better resistance on Sunday as they fell 44-6 at Hull KR's New Craven Park.
The results were never beyond doubt and there were no sustained periods in either game where England were put under any serious pressure, something that will not happen against the Kiwis or the Kangaroos.
If anything, the rules will need to be reversed and England will need to be at their very best for the full 80 minutes in order to give themselves any chance of getting the better of the world's best.
Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield has voiced his support for the series, stating the extra time together instead of additional rest has only strengthened the resolve within the camp.
"It would have been quite easy for Steve and the RFL to wrap some people up in cotton wool and try to do the same as the Aussies and Kiwis by putting your feet up for a little while," he commented.
However, there are plenty of positives from the series, which culminates in Sunday's final that sees England do battle with France once again, but this time at Salford's new stadium in Barton.
England's next generation have been given their chance to shine in the Elite squad with the likes of Zak Hardaker, Josh Charnley, Chris Hill and Kallum Watkins all winning their first caps.
Leeds full-back Hardaker bagged two tries in the crushing win over Wales, Wigan winger Charnley ran in four of his own while Rhinos centre Watkins stole the show against France with a hat-trick.
The rise of up and coming talent piles the pressure on the current incumbents, but will the early 20-somethings be ready to face the likes of Issac Luke, Johnathan Thurston, Benji Marshall and Greg Inglis next year?
What is certain is that England will be brimming with confidence providing they can finish the job on Sunday and collect the Autumn Series trophy. Claiming silverware in 2013 will prove a significantly steeper mountain to climb.