Betts blasts Britain's Maori meeting

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The Independent Online

Denis Betts, the elder statesman of the Great Britain and Ireland tour party, has slammed the decision to send the wounded Lions into battle with the Maoris.

Denis Betts, the elder statesman of the Great Britain and Ireland tour party, has slammed the decision to send the wounded Lions into battle with the Maoris.

After collecting the inaugural Tri-Nations wooden spoon, Britain must play a curtain-raiser to Friday's final between New Zealand and Australia at the Ericsson Stadium.

Betts, the Wigan back rower who is now the most capped British forward in Test history, argues that the tourists are being treated with a lack of respect and that they are faced with a no-win situation against the Maoris, who handed out a humiliating defeat to the 1996 Lions.

"Basically, it's an embarrassing situation that we've been put in," he said. "I've spoken to the coaching staff of both the Aussies and the Kiwis and they wouldn't have played this game.

"It seems that we're put up to be knocked down all the time. If the Maoris do OK against us, then we're shit and if we flog the Maoris then we should have flogged them any way.

"There's just no dignity in what we're trying to do. Maybe it's a punishment, I don't know, but it's no way to treat the side. But all the lads are professional and they'll just get out there and do the job. Hopefully we'll get a win and get on with it."

Britain could have just 19 players to choose from, with Paul Johnson (thigh) and Tony Smith (groin) already ruled out and Ryan Sheridan (thigh), Iestyn Harris (groin) and Gary Connolly (neck and groin) very doubtful after being unable to train at the famous old Carlaw Park ground in Auckland today.

Betts, who is likely to wear the Great Britain jersey for the last time on Friday, admits that the Tri-Nations results - Britain lost 42-6 to Australia and 26-4 to the Kiwis - have taken him by surprise.

The 30-year-old Betts, who played alongside Stacey Jones, Stephen Kearney and Joe Vagana during his two-year spell with Auckland Warriors from 1995-97, accepts that Britain still lag significantly behind their southern hemisphere rivals.

"New Zealand seem to have hit on a batch of high quality players," he said. "Their depth is not massive but all the top players are involved in the NRL and that's developed their game immensely.

"I came on tour with lots of optimism and a great belief that we were going to do very well. But we've not kicked on, we've not made it happen.

"We went into last Friday's game still believing we had a chance of being successful but they were too good for us.

"This side has not had a chance to grow together. We don't play international football enough. Players play 30-odd games for their clubs and they're thrown together for three weeks.

"Everybody then disperses and they're brought back together a year later. Our game needs something in the season where we can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the national side.

"We need something like the State of Origin or a North versus South or Lancashire v Yorkshire."

Betts, who made his Test debut as a 20-year-old in 1990, came close to announcing his retirement from international football in the wake of last Friday's disappointment but is keeping his options open ahead of next year's World Cup, when he has a chance of adding to his four England caps.

"I can see international football being at the back of my mind now," he said. "I've done four tours and a few other things and it's basically down to concentrating on club football and doing what's best for Wigan and for me now.

"There's a lot of young lads here now, the forwards are all 23 or 24 and maybe it's time to pass over and concentrate on playing club football.

"At the moment I miss my kids and family. Touring is definitely a young man's game and I'm looking forward to getting home.

"With it being as disappointing as it has been, it's just hard work at times. On the back of the last couple of years, with the shoulder and knee re-constructions, I'm feeling the pace a bit.

"I've played about 30 games this year and to come away on tour as well, maybe it was asking a little bit too much of myself. I want to carry on playing for as along as possible. It's about time I concentrated on club rugby.

"That's the way I feel now. But I will have a chat with [England coach] John [Kear] and, if I can find some form and I feel up to it, you never can tell."