Great Britain 20 New Zealand 14: Fa'asavalu turns jeers to cheers for Britain

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The Independent Online

Tony Smith wore the look of a man vindicated as his selection hunches paid off with victory in the first of Great Britain's three-Test series.

The Australian, in charge of a full British Test team for the first time, made two bold choices in his selection, giving first caps to the 18-year-old Bradford prop, Sam Burgess, and the St Helens Samoan, Maurie Fa'asavalu.

Some forwards wait the best part of a career for a Test try, but both Smith's new boys got over the line for the key scores in an encouraging team display.

"For them to score tries on their debuts was something they will always remember," Smith said. "Sam has been doing it all season. I had a lot of faith in the young man, and I'm pleased he was rewarded with a try.

"Maurie also did a great job on his debut."

Picking a British resident as obviously foreign as Fa'asavalu was a controversial ploy, and there was a smattering of booing among the applause when he came into the game midway through the first half.

That turned around, however, when he immediately produced one of his trademark runs, charging in and out of a series of tackles designed to test his commitment to his adopted country.

"That first carry was a very big one for his acceptance," Smith said.

Fa'asavalu's assimilation was complete a few minutes later when he took a short pass from his Saints team-mate James Roby and used all his Polynesian power to get over the Kiwi try line. It was a magical moment for a player who has the potential to become a cult figure in the British pack.

Burgess had started the match, the youngest British player ever to do so at prop, but his unforgettable moment came midway through the second half, when he read Leon Pryce's half-break intelligently and took a clever pass to score the first try of what could be a wonderful Test career.

Before the dancing in the streets of Odsal and Apia gets out of hand, however, it should be noted that there was a downside to both players' performances.

It was Fa'asavalu's fumble that set up a New Zealand try from Paul Whatuira, on the ground where he will play his club rugby next season, that put them ahead at half-time.

And Burgess needs to watch his tackling technique. He gave away an early penalty for a high shot, was placed on report for another and could possibly have a third looked by today's video review panel.

That body was indulgence itself to Adrian Morley last week, but might possibly feel that it is time to do something about the high tackling that is creeping back into the game at all levels.

Smith's only other worry for the second Test, at Hull on Saturday, is that James Graham aggravated a knee injury. That apart, his team came through with a clean bill of health and a good deal of credit.

Morley and Jamie Peacock were mighty presences alongside the novices in the pack, Keith Senior looked sharper than he has all year, and, alongside him in the centres, Martin Gleeson made 28 tackles, several of them important ones.

All this was achieved without Kevin Sinfield, who would have been the side's main kicker had he not succumbed to a stomach bug on the morning of the match.

In his absence, Rob Burrow took on the extra responsibility with a man-of-the-match performance, although Pryce was at least as influential in the second half. Burrow landed his goals, kicked well in general play, and made enough of his characteristic scooting runs to worry the Kiwis all evening.

It was one of his kicks that set up the game's strangest and most significant score when it stopped just before the dead-ball line for Gareth Raynor's wild goose chase to pay off.

There was an element of luck in that, but it helped to ensure that the livelier, more creative side took the lead in the series.

And yet it would be naïve to conclude that this is a substandard Kiwi side who will roll over in the remaining two Tests.

Their coach, Gary Kemble, has some fine-tuning to do, and will probably be without the injured Tame Tupou and Epi Lauaki for the rest of the trip, but his side could be a different proposition next weekend. Roy Asotasi and Fuifui Moimoi, to name but two, or maybe three, have the look of players who have not finished with Great Britain yet.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Gardner (St Helens), Gleeson (Warrington Wolves), Senior (Leeds Rhinos), Raynor (Hull FC); Pryce (St Helens), Burrow (Leeds Rhinos); Morley (Warrington Wolves), Newton (Bradford Bulls), Burgess (Bradford Bulls), Peacock (capt, Leeds Rhinos), Ellis (Leeds Rhinos), Sinfield (Leeds Rhinos). Substitutes used: Fa'asavalu (St Helens), Roby (St Helens), Graham (St Helens), O'Loughlin (Wigan)

New Zealand: Perrett (Sydney Roosters); Tupou (Bradford), Hape (Bradford), Whatuira (Huddersfield), Tuiaki (Wests Tigers); Hohaia (NZ Warriors), Leuluai (Wigan); Asotasi (South Sydney, capt), Halatau (Wests Tigers), Moimoi (Parramatta), Mannering (NZ Warriors), Pritchard (Penrith), Smith (Melbourne). Substitutes used: Eastwood (Brisbane), Anderson (Warrington), Rapira (NZ Warriors), Lauaki (NZ Warriors)

Referee: T Archer (Australia)

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