Australia 33 Great Britain 10: Britain bow out to Lockyer, a man in a different league

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The Independent Online

The Lions' captain, Jamie Peacock, paid tribute to his opposite number as a player from another planet after Australia extinguished Great Britain's flickering Tri-Nations hopes here on Saturday.

The two men represented the difference between the sides; Peacock with his perspiration, battling away in a losing cause, Darren Lockyer providing the inspiration that ensured that it would be Australia against New Zealand in the final in Sydney on Saturday and further embellishing his reputation as the world's best rugby player in either code.

"He's the greatest player I've ever played against. He's on a different level from everyone else," Peacock said. "It's been a pleasure playing against him."

That was an interesting phrase to use after Lockyer tormented Great Britain all night. He was largely responsible for Australia taking a 12-point lead in the first six minutes and when Great Britain briefly threatened late in the game he steadied the ship expertly. Put him in the Great Britain side and they would be in the final, but unfortunately Lockyer has no British great-grandparents that he is prepared to admit to.

In between his flourishes, at the start and finish of a match watched by the biggest crowd for a Test in Australia since 1974, Britain competed manfully.

"They can walk out of the stadium and the country with their heads held high," said their coach, Brian Noble. Sadly they were never going to walk out of the stadium as winners for the first time since 1962 - the era of Alex Murphy and Billy Boston, both of whom were there on Saturday - after Lockyer's devastating opening salvo.

First he punished Great Britain for conceding back-to-back penalties with a clever kick for Justin Hodges to score. Then he sent Mark Gasnier past Richard Horne with a gem of a pass. "Nobody else in the game passes the ball like that," observed Gareth Ellis, again one of Britain's best.

Danny McGuire did get a try back, but he and Horne struggled to organise the team in the self-enforced absence of Sean Long. "It was different from my normal game, but I want to take on more responsibility rather than being an off-the-cuff player," McGuire said.

Neither he nor Horne had the kicking game to make the most of the efforts of their forwards, and without that Great Britain lacked any cohesive pattern. To make matters worse, Australia look to have unearthed a scrum-half to hold his own alongside Lockyer. Johnathan Thurston had an excellent game, highlighted by the way he dummied Ellis to set up the third Australian try just after the half-hour. The North Queensland player is not yet truly established as Andrew Johns' successor, but he and Lockyer were in a different league.

What was good about the Lions' performance was that, even after Lockyer had scored to establish a match-winning lead straight after the interval, they never lost the will to compete. Try-saving tackles from Gareth Raynor and Peacock typified that attitude and Gareth Hock's wonderful pass to Keith Senior brought a second try that meant there was a faint chance of a fightback, until Lockyer took control again in the last 10 minutes. "I really believe we are not far away from having a team that can win things," Noble said, blaming the gruelling itinerary that is the consequence of Great Britain coming into the tournament two weeks late. "We need to ask the administrators to give us some parity in terms of preparation.''

Noble's contract is up, but he hinted that he wants to stay, at least until after New Zealand's centenary tour next year. "With the sacrifice involved, you have to love the job, and I do," he said. "We'll let the dust settle, but I'm already looking forward to the 2008 World Cup.''

It will be England rather than Great Britain carrying European hopes then, but they must face the same problems as the squad of 2006 - how to control Lockyer when there is nobody remotely comparable in the British game.

Australia: Hunt (Brisbane); Tate (Brisbane), Gasnier (St George Illawarra), Hodges (Brisbane), Inglis (Melbourne); Lockyer (Brisbane), Thurston (North Queensland); Kite (Manly), Smith (Melbourne) Civoniceva (Brisbane), Hindmarsh (Paramatta), Ryan (Canterbury), O'Donnell (North Queensland). Substitutes used: O'Meley (Canterbury), Berrigan (Brisbane), Tupou (Sydney), Kaufusi (Melbourne).

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens), Pryce (St Helens), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Raynor (Hull), McGuire (Leeds), Horne (Hull), Fielden (Wigan), Newton (Bradford), Peacock (Leeds), Hock (Wigan), Ellis (Leeds), O'Loughlin (Wigan). Substitutes used: Roby (St Helens) Morley (Sydney Roosters), Gilmour (St Helens), Wilkin (St Helens).

Referee: P Simpkins (Australia).

Good, bad and ugly: Who was hot and who was not on Great Britain's Tri-Nations tour

The Hits

* JAMIE PEACOCK: Not everybody's idea of obvious captaincy material and a tired player towards the end of the domestic season, but led from the front magnificently in every game on tour.

* JAMES ROBY: The young St Helens hooker perked up Great Britain's play every time he came on to the field.

* GARETH RAYNOR: Played bravely and did little wrong in the three games when he was called upon. Deserves to keep his place.

* GARETH ELLIS: Like Peacock, he found there was plenty for a hard-working forward to do on this tour and never shirked his duty for a second.

* SEAN LONG: Played what should have been his breakthrough Test when he was largely responsible for the defeat of Australia in Sydney.

The Misses

* STUART FIELDEN: Arrived ready to cement a fearsome reputation and always looked for work, but lacked his usual explosiveness and became an easy target for big hits.

* TERRY NEWTON: Improved in the final game but was fortunate to hang on to the starting hooker role.

* BRIAN CARNEY: No use to Britain on the field once his dodgy hamstring went. No use to them off the field now that he is refusing to talk to the press.

* THE BENCH: Andy Coley, Paul Wood, Rob Burrow and Martin Aspinwall - spare a thought for the players who never got a run. Fringe men deserve a chance to stake a claim.

* SEAN LONG: Imploded after a performance in Wellington that was as bad as Sydney had been good. Should never be selected again.

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