Wayne Bennett’s future as England and Great Britain coach should not just be judged on the performances of the 2019 Lions tour, says Rugby Football League rugby director Kevin Sinfield.
Bennett, 69, is out of contract at the end of the current series in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Three straight defeats, against Tonga and then twice against the Kiwis, have raised the pressure on the veteran.
“I think we wait until the end of the series [to decide],” Sinfield said.
He told the Radio 5 Live Rugby League Podcast: “That dialogue has started and been ongoing for some time.
“What’s important is, Wayne is here as Great Britain head coach, but we should really take into account his performances as England head coach when we decide what happens over the next couple of years.
“He got us to a World Cup final, we won the Test series last year against the Kiwis, and although there is disappointment this time with GB, it’s important to understand the changes and the transition that has happened.”
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Bennett’s appointment in 2016, based predominantly on his unprecedented success as a club coach in winning seven Premierships in his native Australia, was seen as a major coup when he took the job.
Although England missed out on the Four Nations final in that year, they reached a World Cup final 12 months later and then last year beat the Kiwis 2-1 in a home Test series.
While performances during this Lions tour have been disappointing, Sinfield believes Bennett has put building blocks in place and that mitigating circumstances can be attached to the drop in results.
“Look at this series and the players that are missing,” he added. “There’s Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Burgess, James Roby, Luke Gale, Kallum Watkins, Tommy Makinson, Mark Percival. There’s a handful there of top international players – our pool is getting bigger and better.
“If you take that quality out of any national team, they’re going to struggle. The Aussies and Kiwis have real strength in depth, we’re building towards that but we’re still a way off.”
‘Lack of creativity’ a fair criticism, says Sinfield
The tally of three tries in three games is a disappointing total for the Lions with just one game of the tour to go, highlighting an inability and lack of creativity to pierce Test-level defences.
Bennett certainly had the raw materials, having selected six of the best British-qualified halves in his touring party.
“That’s Test match rugby, defences are that good and you need something out of the ordinary to score points,” Sinfield countered.
“It’s a fair criticism, but if you look at the other Tests, there’s not been a stand-out creative team.
“The disappointing thing in the second Kiwis Test is we got field position at times but just couldn’t create the right opportunities and put too much ball down.”
Former Wales international Justin Morgan added: “Sometimes in games you get beaten, but it didn’t feel like they went down all guns blazing.
“They had some field possession and the key playmakers and creative players didn’t get their hands on the ball enough.
“They were a little bit loose, the way they played, they made way too many errors – Test match level requires precision and taking the limited opportunities you get.”
Such a wealth of halves meant an imbalance in selections of other positions, for example the wing where just two specialists made the trip, and likewise in the centres where only Oliver Gildart was a bona-fide three-quarter alongside the more versatile Jake Connor.
That lack of depth has haunted the Lions on the tour, particularly in Saturday’s Test where the starting XIII was a patched-up side.
“For a three-and-a-bit-week trip, you’re not going to play all those halves,” Noble said. “We had a half and a back-rower in the three-quarters and a half on one of the wings, so we lacked fluidity outside the halves.
“There was a lot of pressure on John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead in the back-row to be those strike players on the fringes and they had been putting a shift in on the other side of the fence [defensively].
“The squad was busted and imbalanced. They looked tired and disjointed.”
Should Bennett stay? Experts have their say
Former Great Britain coach Brian Noble:
“It depends whether Wayne has the energy and enthusiasm over the next two years to still want it and what he’s going to offer getting ready for the next two years in relation to the next World Cup.
“If they are going somewhere else, then who is it and how are they going to do it?”
Ex-Wales international Justin Morgan:
“I think he should stay. When it comes to replacing coaches, you don’t just look at results, you look at culture and all the other things he’s created.
“We’re not on the inside but from the outside looking in, with some of the performances there have been really good signs and really good players emerging.
“It’s a little bit risky going in a new direction with two years to go. His key performance indicator now is winning the World Cup.”