England coach Denis Betts relishing Tonga World Cup semi-final clash
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 24/11/17 8:19am
England have the muscle to overcome the Tongan heavyweights in Saturday's second World Cup semi-final.
That was the message from assistant coach Denis Betts, who wants to shed the tag of being the last man to lead England into a World Cup final.
Jason Taumalolo, who defected from New Zealand, and 20-stone Andrew Fifita, a man initially selected in the Kangaroos squad, have led Tonga's march into the last four for the first time.
Betts warns there are other plenty of other threats from Kristian Woolf's men but remains confident that England are on track to reach their first final since his team lost to Australia at Wembley in 1995.
"You want to play against the best players and when you look at the Tongan side, it's not just Fifita and Taumalolo," said Betts.
"They've got some of the best players in the world and we've got to go after them. The exciting part for our forwards is that we're not a small pack ourselves.
"It's going to be a massive challenge for us. That's what you want in a semi-final of a World Cup, you want this place to be banging tomorrow with the support Tonga have brought so far."
Phil Clarke's semi-finals preview
Phil Clarke pays tribute to the brilliant Tongans as he looks ahead to the Rugby League semi-finals.
The match at Auckland's Mount Smart Stadium is a 30,000 sell-out, ensuring the biggest crowd for a rugby league game at the ground since 1995 and the majority will be Tongan supporters.
Betts, who played for the Auckland Warriors from the start of their existence in 1995, says the England players will thrive in the red-hot atmosphere.
"You want it to feel like a hostile environment where we have to really put our games on the line," he said. "It's exciting for me and I'm not playing.
"We've got a good travelling support but I think it might be quite red in here tomorrow night. That's not going to affect our lads. They will enjoy that environment, you want to play in front of full stadiums.
"I'm not sure what the Warriors get these days but in 1995-96 it was always pretty full here and it was exciting running through the tunnel with the flames going and the drums banging, there was a tingle down your spine."
Meanwhile, veteran stand-off Kevin Brown will take his place in the team after passing all the required head tests.
The veteran Warrington playmaker was forced to sit out the second half of England's 36-6 quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea in Melbourne last Sunday after taking a heavy knock 25 minutes into the game.
Brown was prevented from joining in any contact work this week until being given the all-clear and he duly took part in the captain's run at Mount Smart Stadium on Friday morning.
"Kevin is fit, he's always been fit," said Betts. "He was never in doubt. We just had to go through the protocol that has been put in place by the World Cup."
With second rower Sam Burgess also proving his fitness after turning an ankle against the Kumuls, England head coach Wayne Bennett is able to field an unchanged team.