Cooper pushes Britain towards the exit

Great Britain 6 Australia 20
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The Independent Online

Roy Keane, watching from the stand, would have recognised and admired the commitment of the British side. He might also have concluded that, just like Manchester United, they lacked the necessary quality in vital areas.

After their lame display against New Zealand, Brian Noble's side lacked nothing in attitude and aggression. In Adrian Morley and Stuart Fielden - who will one day follow the former to an Australian club - they had characters capable of winning the trench warfare.

Those who disappointed last week lifted their games, particularly Brian Carney, who was a model of solidity and determination. Defensively, it was hard to fault him or anyone else, although it was Paul Wellens' turn to be uncertain under the kick.

There was impact from the bench, in the shape of Jamie Thackray and Mick Higham. Keiron Cunningham, although he injured his arm early in the game, caused plenty of trouble from dummy-half, and the whole side's kicking game was vastly improved on the previous week.

"I've never played against Australia when we've dominated them like that for long periods of time," said the British captain, Jamie Peacock. It was a valid observation.

Much to applaud, then, but Great Britain created hardly any try-scoring chances. Once they reached the opposition 20-metre zone, the half-backs Iestyn Harris and Paul Deacon created little.

Their only try came when Morley took Cunningham's short pass and forced his way over with sheer will-power. It opened up the real possibility of a precious victory, but, apart from that moment, Great Britain, inside the 20, were more of a danger to themselves than to Australia.

That was the case in the 18th minute when Matt Cooper picked off Cunningham's looping pass after Britain had taken an attack the wrong way. Peacock insisted that there should be no criticism of the hooker. "What can you say to him? He was brilliant apart from that and he showed his commitment to international football."

As far as Noble was concerned, it was the little things that went wrong. That was certainly true of the last 10 minutes. Deacon put through a little kick that should, on the sodden turf, have been difficult to pick up. If Willie Mason had fumbled, Great Britain would have had another set of tackles deep in Australian territory and a magnificent defence might have been stretched. Instead, Mason surged up field and drew a penalty from Leon Pryce in the next tackle.

The Aussies got another one when Paul Johnson and Fielden were ruled to have stripped the ball from Luke O'Donnell. "That changed the momentum of the game and I thought it was very harsh," Noble said. It might have been an easier decision to take from a neutral referee, rather than Australia's Tim Mander.

Craig Fitzgibbon missed his shot at goal, but his side got the ball back from the drop out and there, in a flash, was the flair Britain had lacked in similar positions, Darren Lockyer getting a reverse pass away, knowing that Anthony Minichiello would be there.

Deacon's kick-off did not go 10 metres, Australia had the ball again and superb handling from Ben Kennedy and Mark Gasnier gave Cooper his second try.

It was a cruel and, in many ways, a misleading scoreline, one which Noble admitted might come back to "bite our backsides", but that is what players of exceptional skill can do to you.

Great Britain must now beat Australia, and the Kiwis, by decisive margins to reach the final. They have not shown they have the cutting edge to do so.

Great Britain: Try Morley; Goal Sinfield. Australia: Tries Cooper 2, Minichiello; Goals: Fitzgibbon 3, Lockyer.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Pryce; Harris, Deacon; Fielden (all Bradford), Cunningham (St Helens), Morley (Sydney), Peacock, Johnson (both Bradford), Sinfield (Leeds). Substitutes used: Gilmour (St Helens), Walker (Leeds), Thackray (Hull), Higham (St Helens).

Australia: Minichiello (Sydney); King (Melbourne), Gasnier, Cooper (both St George-Illawarra), Tate; Lockyer (both Brisbane), Prince (Wests Tigers); Civoniceva (Brisbane), Buderus (Newcastle), Price (NZ Warriors), O'Donnell (North Queensland), Fitzgibbon (Sydney), Kennedy (Manly). Substitutes used: Barrett, Ryles (both St George-Illawarra), O'Meley, Mason (both Canterbury).

Referee: T Mander (Australia).

Attendance: 25,004.