A transformed Great Britain performance at Huddersfield last night took them to the verge of salvaging a place in the Tri-Nations. Without a win in the tournament so far, the Lions found all their missing fluency to put themselves in a position where a victory over Australia by nine points or more next week will take them into a final with the Kiwis. Just to complicate matters, a win by three points would take them above New Zealand; this was advanced mathematics with muscles.
The Great Britain coach, Brian Noble, resisted the temptation to change his half-backs after last week's failure of imagination whenever his side approached the Australian line. Richard Horne, the one remaining card up his sleeve, was only on the bench, although there was a change at loose-forward, where Kevin Sinfield gave way to his Leeds team-mate Gareth Ellis.
The presence of Stacy Jones, making yet another international comeback, looked far more significant than that, but he and his team-mates were destined to be swept aside by Great Britain's inspired first-half performance. In five minutes, the home side had lifted much of the gloom that has hung over them by scoring the game's first try.
Manu Vatuvei could only carry Paul Deacon's penalty into touch and, from that attack, Martin Gleeson went close before Keiron Cunningham's typically slick pass sent Stuart Fielden, the outstanding forward in the competition, charging over for a try which Deacon converted.
The Kiwis are conceding too many penalties and one of them, when David Kidwell pushed Paul Johnson ,set up the second British try. Jamie Peacock took the ball to the line, Paul Wellens filled in at dummy-half and Deacon spun away from tackles to find the try-line and again add the goal. New Zealand's best chance came when David Solomona beat Peacock's tackle on the left, but chose to kick ahead. It did not look the best of options, but Brent Webb came close to reaching the ball.
Nigel Vagana was placed on report for a nasty-looking high tackle on Deacon that saw the scrum-half taken off and replaced by Horne, before a series of misadventures brought about the third British try.
Ellis was penalised for dragging Webb back behind his try- line, Jones missed touch with his kick and Britain's counterattack bore fruit when Chev Walker picked up a difficult ball and threw a pass that gave Brian Carney just enough room on the outside. Iestyn Harris kicked the goal, and came desperately close to a fourth try for his side as he went weaving through the overworked Kiwi defence.
When that try did come, it was a classic, Walker and Gleeson moving the ball swiftly to Carney, who was again too fast for the Kiwi cover, although at the expense of an injury that forced him straight off the pitch.
After Horne broke away and threatened another try, Shontayne Happe was sin-binned for holding him down and Harris added another goal to an excellent half's work by Great Britain.
Britain still needed to score first in the second half, and they did so when Leon Pryce made the break and the inspired Walker was there to go the last 20 metres. New Zealand finally got on the scoreboard after 49 minutes when some lovely handling ended with Jake Webster squeezing in at the corner, but any hopes of a fightback were extinguished by more wonderful lead-up work from Harris and Walker to send Keith Senior in by the flag.
Louis Anderson had one disallowed for the Kiwis before Mick Higham's pass to send Gleeson away was ruled forward. With points difference so potentially important, the Kiwis were still throwing the ball around at every opportunity, forcing Britain into some mighty defence until Ali Lauitiiti finally broke them down.
The second try from Webster made this late game-within-a-game a cliffhanger, but Jones's missed conversion left New Zealand short of the tally they needed to guarantee a place in the final.
Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Pryce (Bradford); Paris (Bradford), Deacon (Bradford); Fielden (Bradford), Cunningham (St Helens), Morley (Sydney), Peacock (Bradford), Johnson (Bradford), Ellis (Leeds). Substitutes used: Higham (St Helens), Walker (Leeds), Thackray (Hull), Horne (Hull).
New Zealand: Webb; Webster, Toopi, Happe, Vatuvei; Vagana, Jones; Rauhihi, Tony, Wiki, Kidwell, Solomona, Guttenbeil. Substitutes used: Faiumu, Asotasi, Anderson, Lauitiiti.
Referee: T Mander (Australia).Reuse content