Kiwis' Kemble endures baptism of fire

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The Independent Online

As first weeks in a new job go, Gary Kemble has had a distinctly tricky one. The freshlyappointed New Zealand Test coach was in charge for the first time last Sunday and saw his team pounded 58-0 by Australia in Wellington.

The defeat also cost him two of his brightest young players – Krisnan Inu and Luke Covell, who were both injured – while the tough centre Steve Matai received a two-match sus-pension after being sent off.

The aftermath did not end there. The Kiwis were pursued after their departure by accusations of a sexual assault on a woman at the team's hotel. The charges were later dropped, but unnamed players have been disciplined by tour management.

Kemble was under orders from the NZRL to say nothing about those allegations, although he did admit: "It's not something you would have planned for in your first week as coach."

Even before that little lot, the former Hull full-back faced a difficult task. Not only is he taking over from a successful and charismatic coach in the Leeds-bound Brian McClennan, he is also suffering from the Kiwi curse of unavailable players, with talents of the magnitude of Sonny Bill Williams and Benji Marshall already ruled out.

"We've lost players with that X factor, but we've got some depth and we've still got excitingplayers," Kemble says.

The Kiwis' depth comes from having between 60 and 70 players in the first grade in Australia's NRL most weeks of the season. Kemble believes that the scale of the defeat in Wellington will have concentrated minds more than anything he can say.

"There were some of the lads who hadn't realised the magnitude of the task when you step up into international football. Now they know."

Given the inevitability of a Kiwi backlash, it is important that Tony Smith gets his selection right for the Huddersfield Test next Saturday night.

Most of his team will be clear in his mind, although impressive performances from the likes of Richard Moore and Sam Burgess could see one of them included as an impact forward.

One certainty is that Rob Burrow will get the scrum-half job after his man-of-the-match performance in the Super League Grand Final last weekend, and he should be accompanied by a healthy contingent from the Leeds side Smith coached to victory that night.