Lockyer leads the rout of Great Britain

Great Britain 4 Australia 44
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The Independent Online

Australia lifted their game to a new level to make a mockery of British hopes of ending three decades of second best by winning the final of the Tri-Nations tournament in Leeds last night.

Australia lifted their game to a new level to make a mockery of British hopes of ending three decades of second best by winning the final of the Tri-Nations tournament in Leeds last night.

Coming into this game with a series of close contests behind them, including a victory over the Kangaroos two weeks ago, Great Britain had convinced themselves that they had a chance of ending their long wait.

That proved to be little more than a delusion as they were dismantled by an Australian side in which Darren Lockyer and Anthony Minichiello were outstanding, but the whole team played rugby from a different planet. Australia were often sublime, but a British team that had performed so well earlier in the tournament simply folded under the pressure.

The losing margin of 40 points was the worst ever in this country, superseding the 50-12 defeat at Swinton in 1963, and there were times when the 64-10 humiliation in Sydney two years ago looked destined to be wiped from the record books.

Brian Noble had hinted all week that he might do something different for the final and he did so by naming Iestyn Harris to start at stand-off, hard though that seemed on Danny McGuire, who was relegated to the bench, alongside Sean O'Loughlin. Gareth Ellis was omitted.

A pre-match rumour that Australia would be without their most formidable forward, Shane Webcke, turned out to be exaggerated, although the prop emerged with his right knee heavily strapped and warmed up under the effective eye of the Kangaroo trainer. On top of Lockyer's continuing battle with his rib injury, it was an extra element of uncertainty for the world champions.

Webcke looked strong enough when the match started, heading an Australian lead downfield that ended with a double penalty, for Terry Newton's foul in the tackle and for dissent, that gave Lockyer an easy two points. That was just the start of a first-half massacre.

Both sides had early try-scoring chances, with Paul Wellens almost latching on to Sean Long's clever cross kick and Stuart Fielden taking Matt Sing into touch after the wing had outstripped the British back line.

After eight minutes, however, there was no stopping Sing as Lockyer's pass picked out Minichiello, whose kick for the corner was perfectly measured for the game's first try, converted by Lockyer for an eight-point lead.

The signs were not promising. Australia were hitting ferociously hard in the tackle and Britain's suspect kicking game was worse than ever, giving their opponents irresistible invitations to run the ball back at them.

When they did, some of their handling was superb. One particular inspired passage of play seemed to have ended when Stuart Reardon tackled Shaun Berrigan, but on the last tackle Lockyer turned the ball inside for Minichiello to race through for another converted try.

Great Britain's dreams were already turning to ashes and matters got even worse when, still with only 18 minutes gone, Lockyer hoisted a high kick and Willie Tonga beat Brian Carney to touch down. Now 20 points down, Great Britain at least spent some time attacking the Australian line, although they never looked like crossing it.

By contrast, as soon as the Kangaroos went to the other end, they scored immediately, the commanding Lockyer switching the point of attack and Minichiello getting his second try from Berrigan's pass. Three minutes later, Nathan Hindmarsh was allowed to get his pass away to Lockyer who went half the length of the field to score.

The British crowd, who had arrived at Elland Road with such high expectations, was reduced to ironic applause when the home team did something right, like avoiding an opposing throat when they put up a kick or forcing a drop-out.

It was still Australia controlling every aspect of play, though, as when Lockyer threw a marvellous long pass for Andrew Ryan to give Tonga his second try four minutes before half-time.

One wondered what Noble could possibly say during the interval, so vast was the gap between the two sides in the first 40 minutes. Three minutes after the restart, the defence stood and watched as Willie Mason touched down from a Brett Kimmorley kick. There was some tiny consolation for Britain when Reardon did the same from McGuire's kick as Sing allowed it to run into the in-goal area.

At least the indignity of being whitewashed had been avoided, for what that was worth. Carney and Newton also had tries disallowed, but these were little more than token efforts against a side by now in cruise control.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens), Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Reardon (Bradford), Harris (Bradford), Long (St Helens), Fielden (Bradford), Newton (Wigan), Morley (Sidney), Peacock (Bradford), Farrell (Wigan), Sculthorpe (St Helens). Substitutes: McGuire (Leeds), Johnson (Bradford), Bailey (Leeds), O'Loughlin (Wigan).

Australia: Minichiello (Sidney), Sing (North Queensland), Berriegan (Brisbane), Tonga (Canterbury), Rooney (Henry), Lockyer (Brisbane), Kimmorley (Cronulla), Webcke (Brisbane), Buderus (Newcastle), Cibvoniceva (Brisbane), Brian (Canterbury), Hindmarsh (Parramatta) Carroll (Brisbane), Substitutes: Wing (Sidney), O'Meley (Canterbury), Fitzgibbon (Sidney), Mason (Canterbury).

Referee: R Smith (Great Britain).