Chris Hill hoping for happier return to London as England target World Cup final
Evergreen England prop Chris Hill is hoping for better luck from his second big trip to north London in 2022 but admits there was an unexpected bonus arising from the dejection of his first.
The Huddersfield front rower was forced off with a calf injury in the first half of the Challenge Cup final against Wigan at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May and his absence was sorely missed as the Giants went on to lose 16-14.
The injury also forced him to sit out the next nine games but it meant he went into the World Cup on the back of a lighter workload and says that lingering freshness has helped account for his hugely-impressive form for his country.
Hill will head back to the capital on Thursday to help England prepare for Saturday’s semi-final against Samoa at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, with a second successive World Cup final appearance firmly in his sights.
“Probably that 11 weeks off with my calf did me some good,” the former Warrington forward told the PA news agency. “It freshened my body up.
“I’d not been out for such a long time span in my career before and, as much as it had a detrimental effect on Huddersfield and our season, it’s probably put me in good stead for the World Cup.
“Usually when I come into England, it’s on the back of 30 games but I’ve played a lot less games this year.
“There’s two more big games and then I’ll rest up.”
The selection of Hill, one of six survivors from the England team that lost 6-0 to Australia in the 2017 final in Brisbane, followed the withdrawal of St Helens front rower Alex Walmsley through injury and caused a few raised eyebrows.
However, he is guaranteed to win his 34th cap on Saturday after rolling back the years with a series of exceptional displays against Samoa, France, Greece and Papua New Guinea which he puts down to hard work and the spirit within the England camp created by head coach Shaun Wane.
“I’ve worked hard,” he said. “I’m very critical of my own game and I always push myself.
“I turned 35 this week but, no matter how old you are, you put your best foot forward. It’s worked well under Shaun.
“It’s a great set of lads. Obviously I’d never met quite a few of them but there’s a great mix of experience and youth and I think that’s what you need in a World Cup.
“You spend a lot of time with each other, there’s a lot of different personalities within the group but we all get on.”
The key to England’s impressive run so far has been their fast starts and Hill, alongside Tom Burgess, helped set the platform which enabled Wane’s men to blow away Papua New Guinea in last Saturday’s quarter-final in Wigan.
Hill insists the 46-6 win was no cakewalk, however, and says he is prepared for another physical battle in the semi-final.
“I wouldn’t say easy,” he said. “The final score probably flattered us a little bit. It was far from easy, they really stuck to it and were solid in the middle.
“But, if you’re going to push a perfect game out then that was it, it was a perfect 25 minutes.
“We knew we needed to keep the ball away from PNG because they love to attack and, if we gave them too much ball, they could be damaging so we needed to come and box that like we did.
“Now the lads are buzzing and we’re looking forward to Saturday, it’s another battle on.
“Tottenham was immense and I’m sure the Emirates won’t disappoint. I hope it’s packed out.”