Half-back George Williams says England’s heart-breaking World Cup semi-final defeat will live with him until the next tournament in 2025.
England breezed into the last four with an air of unbridled confidence after an untroubled run of four matches which included a 60-6 rout of Saturday’s opponents but produced their worst hour of football to trail 20-12 to a Samoan side appearing in their first semi-final.
Shaun Wane’s men suddenly sparked into life in a frenzied final quarter and twice drew level to send the game into extra time, only to succumb to a golden-point drop goal from Stephen Crichton and go down 27-26 in front of a 40,489 crowd at the Emirates Stadium.
Wane struggled to hold back the tears in the post-match press conference and the vast majority of his dejected players refused to stop for interviews in the mixed zone following England’s failure to reach a first home World Cup final since 1995 and gain the chance to end a 50-year wait to lift the trophy.
Williams, who was one of the few players to speak to the media, said: “That will probably sit with us, especially me, for three years, until the next World Cup.
“That’s the heart-breaking thing. Some people will never play in a World Cup again and we’ll never have this certain group together again so that’s why it hurts so much. That’s why there’s some tears in there.”
Williams had produced the break that led to second rower Elliott Whitehead scoring a first-half try but slipshod defence enabled Super League duo Tim Lafai (Salford) and Ligi Sao (Hull) to grab scores which put the Samoans into a 14-6 half-time lead.
When Lafai fumbled the ball from Williams’ kick to gift forward John Bateman a try early in the second half, England were back in front but Crichton finished off a spectacular move for his first try and Lafai scored his second to open up a 12-point cushion.
Centre Herbie Farnworth showed his class with two tries in the final quarter as England finally found their groove but in between the scores Crichton picked off a Victor Radley pass to sprint 60 metres for an opportunist try and he had the final say with a 40-metre drop goal.
“It was pretty heart-breaking watching that kick go over,” Williams said. “It felt like it was a nightmare really, it felt it was going over forever, it went that slow.
“We probably got what we deserved, we’re way better than we showed today.
“When we did get momentum, we did things we wanted to but then we’d make an error and they’ve got too many good players for us to be off.
“It’s been one of the best six weeks of my life but we fell short.”
At 28, Williams will be expected to be around for the 17th World Cup in France in 2025 but for players like 34-year-old Mike Cooper this was their last chance to make history.
“I’m shattered, completely devastated,” Cooper said. “I thought we were sloppy at the start, clawed it back but slipped off again.
“One thing you can’t doubt is the spirit, courage and bravery of the players. We weren’t a million miles off but we weren’t at that intensity that we’ve had.
“All credit to Samoa, they came out firing and scored a couple of unbelievable tries.”
Cooper’s international career is now almost certainly at an end but he believes there is a nucleus of rich talent in the England squad that, under Wane, can go on to lift the World Cup.
“I’ve no doubt England will win a World Cup,” he said. “England will win a major series, I have no doubt about that, with the team we’ve got here, the young kids and the coaching staff, we will win trophies in the future.”
Williams, meanwhile, is not ruling another upset when Samoa take on the holders and overwhelming favourites Australia at Old Trafford next Saturday, a match he intends to watch.
“I will watch, as much as it will hurt me, wishing I was playing,” he said.
“We were heavy favourites going into this, Australia will probably be heavy favourites next week but, as you’ve seen, anything can happen.”