Late burst by Lockyer adds to Britain's frustration

Great Britain 12 Australia 18
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The Independent Online

They tried to call this the Think! Road Safety Test series. It will be better remembered as the Think What Might Have Been series.

For the third time in a row, Great Britain performed with guts and determination, but could not sustain their effort for the full 80 minutes.

Sometimes it takes 75 minutes or more for the real difference in mentality between two sides to come through. That was the case again in Huddersfield on Saturday night, when, with little more than three minutes to play, the Australian captain, Darren Lockyer, created an equalising try for Michael De Vere.

Far from settling for that, Lockyer attacked again, from a loose ball in his own half, nobody in an exhausted British defence could help Kris Radlinski with his tackle on Brett Kimmorley and Lockyer popped up again to send Luke Ricketson over.

Lockyer admitted that his side had been looking - World Cup final-style - for a winning drop goal. When that plan broke down, however, they still had enough energy and enthusiasm to improvise.

It left Great Britain even more deflated than they had been by their two previous defeats, both of which could so easily have been victories. The record books will show that this is the worst British performance in an Ashes series since the whitewash of 1986. The underlying reality is rather different.

Some of the Lions' efforts deserve nothing but praise. With far less ball than their opponents, Great Britain showed enormous commitment in defence throughout the three games. Where they have failed is in doing the little things that could have brought them their reward.

Individual errors all contributed to the way Australia piled on the pressure in the second half. This might be far from the best Kangaroo squad to visit these shores, but when they get a grip on the opposition they do not let go.

That is why it is doubly important to have the right men on the field at the right time. Britain desperately needed the kicking game of Paul Deacon in the second half, but David Waite felt unable to use up a substitution by bringing him back on. That was surely the wrong priority.

Some things worked well for Waite in his last match in charge. Martin Gleeson and Lee Gilmour exceeded expectations in the centre and Gareth Ellis made a promising debut from the bench. There will be more players of his generation - and younger - in the side when Great Britain take the field again, against Australia and New Zealand, next autumn.

By then we will know whether this series has done any long-term harm to the game's standing. Even set against events on the other side of the world, it should not have done.

We have, after all, had three Tests that most rugby league followers in this country would recognise, once they get over their disappointment, as more entertaining than anything the World Cup threw up. They were played in front of full houses, albeit at modestly-sized stadiums, and they came at the end of a compelling domestic season.

But they will always represent a sadly missed opportunity. A first Ashes series win since 1970 - and that is what it could have been - would have been a marker for the progress the game has been making in Britain on many fronts.

But the scoreboard can be a cruel commentator. It says that, for all their efforts, Great Britain could not turn even one winning position into an actual win. And the world loves winners.

GREAT BRITAIN: Radlinski (Wigan); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (St Helens), Gilmour (Bradford), Horne (Hull); Sculthorpe (St Helens), Deacon (Bradford); Fielden (Bradford), Newton (Wigan), Morley (Sydney Roosters), Peacock (Bradford), Farrell (Wigan, capt), Forshaw (Bradford). Substitutes used: Sinfield (Leeds), Long (St Helens), McDermott (Leeds), Ellis (Wakefield).

AUSTRALIA: Lockyer (Brisbane, capt); Minichiello (Sydney Roosters), De Vere (Brisbane), Wing (Sydney Roosters), Sing (North Queensland); Crocker (Sydney Roosters), Kimmorley (Cronulla); Webcke (Brisbane), Buderus (Newcastrle), Kearns (Melbourne), Fitzgibbon (Sydney Roosters), Simpson (Newcastle), Ricketson (Sydney Roosters). Substitutes used: Civoniceva (Brisbane), Waterhouse (Penrith), Mason (Canterbury), Smith (St Helens).

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).