Sean Long crammed as many highs and lows into one game as some players do in a career but came out on top as Great Britain won in Sydney for the first time in 18 years.
The St Helens scrum-half, so often found wanting at Test level, was instrumental in the Lions earning their first Tri-Nations points on a night when he was also flattened by a late tackle, had a try scored off his intercepted pass and missed an easy chance to clinch the match with a penalty. "He has been much maligned at international level, but he has cured that tonight," said his coach, Brian Noble, calculating that the good far outweighed the bad.
"It was definitely my best game for Great Britain, but there were times,[such as] when I missed that penalty, I thought it wasn't going to be my night," Long said. "I thought Australia would do their Houdini act and get away with it again."
Great Britain were six points ahead going into the last 15 minutes when Long missed that simple kick, followed by a failed drop-goal attempt. But then, with Australia clinging to a hope of at least a draw, he got his foot to a loose ball close to his own line, regathered after a favourable bounce and got his pass away to the supporting James Roby. Seconds later, Gareth Raynor was scoring and the game was won, rounded off by a Long drop-goal.
"It's the proudest feeling I've had, because its a very rare thing to win in Australia," said the British captain, Jamie Peacock, one of a string of mighty performers in the pack.
"Our forwards were awesome, but Longy was man of the match," said Leon Pryce, who put his hounding by the Australian media to the back of his mind and delivered an influential performanceon a night when the much disparaged British team stood up to be counted.
The opening stages were noticeable for the raw aggression of Australia's most notorious firebrand, Willie Mason. As early as the third minute he squared up to Stuart Fielden and hit him with a right hook that broke his nose and limited his future involvement in the game. Long was taken out by Luke O'Donnell in the same mêlée and Mason had a second bout against Peacock. "I think it fired us up if anything," Peacock said.
Mason was at it again after 10 minutes, hitting Long fractionally late. This time he was placed on report, and few could argue with that. He faces the judiciary on the punching charge, though not the late tackle, tomorrow.
As far as the rugby was concerned, the first half was a dour affair, with Australia uncharacteristically prone to handling mistakes and Great Britain looking capable of containing them. The complexion seemed to change after 28 minutes with Great Britain on the attack when Long had his loose pass intercepted by Ben Hornby. The new Australian scrum-half might not have made it to the other end, but the lightning-quick Greg Inglis was on hand to take over and score. Brian Carney's chase was probably in vain in any event, but he pulled up and went off for treatment on his recurring hamstring injury, leaving Great Britain with only 15 fit players.
It was a depressing few minutes after their solid early effort, but they responded in the best possible way. Long ran at the defence, sold a dummy, slipped between two forwards, set up his St Helens team-mate Paul Wellens to score with an inside pass, and then landed the conversion to bring the scores level.
Great Britain started the second half with a new confidence. After a penalty, conceded by Nathan Hindmarsh for a high tackle, Roby, who had sparked up their play after coming on, sent Peacock through a hint of a gap, and he forced the ball down despite a three-man tackle.
Australia had opportunities but Jamie Lyon could not quite keep Darren Lockyer's kick in and Mason dropped the ball with the try-line open. When they did score, it was a beauty, Shaun Berrigan opening up the flank and Inglis having the composure to find Lockyer on his inside.
Raynor prevented Hornby touching down to put Australia in front and then Pryce's pass sent Lee Gilmour through on an angle that opened up the Kangaroo defence. Long landed the goal, and though he still had some ups and downs ahead he and his team-mates were able to celebrate the best British rugby league night in Sydney since 1988 and their first Test victory in Australia since the Melbourne triumph of 1992.
Australia: Hunt (Brisbane); Tate (Brisbane), Gasnier (St George-Illawarra), Lyon (St Helens), Inglis (Melbourne); Lockyer (Brisbane, capt), Hornby (St George-Illawarra); O'Meley (Canterbury), Berrigan (Brisbane), Civoniceva (Brisbane), Mason (Canterbury), Hindmarsh (Parramatta), O'Donnell (North Queensland). Substitutes used: Smith (Melbourne), Tupou (Sydney Roosters), Kite (Manly), Thaiday (Brisbane).
Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Newcastle Knights), Senior (Leeds), Yeaman (Hull), Raynor (Hull); Pryce (St Helens), Long (St Helens); Fielden (Wigan), Newton (Bradford), Peacock (Leeds, capt), Ellis (Leeds), Hock (Wigan), O'Loughlin (Wigan). Substitutes used: Roby (St Helens), Morley (Sydney Roosters), Gilmour (St Helens), Wilkin (St Helens).
Referee: A Klein (GB).Reuse content