New Zealand 34 Great Britain 4: Jones and Wiki run riot to push Britain to the brink

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The Independent Online

It has been a fact of rugby league life for 30 years that Great Britain cannot back up one good performance in the southern hemisphere with another, but rarely have they crashed from the heights to the depths as spectacularly as this.

A week after the triumph over Australia in Sydney, the Kiwis put the boot into the hapless Lions here. It was the most one-sided scoreline ever between the two countries and, despite a couple of significant decisions that went against Great Britain, it was a fair reflection of the difference between the two sides.

It was all about the old, familiar problem. "We had our minds on last week instead of the job in hand," admitted Adrian Morley on his team-mates' behalf. "After that, we were confident coming into this game but this was a kick in the guts."

The Kiwis deserved credit for the way they put their off-field troubles, notably the "Grannygate'' affair, out of their minds to produce some highly effective rugby.

In the scrum-half Stacey Jones and the prop Ruben Wiki they had the two dominant figures of the game; two players whose leadership qualities make the Kiwis, according to their coach, Brian McClennan, "the luckiest team in the world". Jones was at his brilliant best and his link with the ageless Wiki was responsible for two dazzling tries. The full-back Brent Webb, who tormented Britain in Christchurch, was not far behind with another incisive display that brought him two more tries.

Admittedly, the Kiwis got the better of the officials' decisions on the night, with Great Britain having two tries disallowed which might have stood and Webb scoring one from a pass from Jones that appeared to go forward.

The Kiwis, however, were so superior that they still would have found a way of winning by a resounding margin if none of those rulings had gone in their favour.

Britain failed to function in too many departments. The scrum-half Sean Long, so impressive against Australia last week, was anonymous in Wellington and his link with Danny McGuire never produced a spark. In Long's defence, it has to be said that the British forwards were badly outmuscled, with only the captain, Jamie Peacock, doing himself any justice.

"He was the best player on the park by a mile," said the British coach Brian Noble, with some exaggeration, considering the contributions of Wiki and Jones. "He led from the front."

Peacock could indeed be happy with his own performance. "But rugby league is a team game and we played rubbish as a team,'' the captain said.

Great Britain let themselves down badly. In the first half they missed 23 tackles, which is enough in itself to lose any match. New Zealand punished them by scoring three tries, through Nigel Vagana selling a dummy from the play-the-ball, a lovely set move for Webb to score and a second from the full-back that looked distinctly dubious.

Great Britain's only reply was a fluke try presented to them by Manu Vatuvei's fumble under McGuire's speculative high kick.

There should have been a second immediately before half-time but Gareth Raynor had it disallowed by the video referee when the evidence suggested that he had just about forced the ball down.

Nathan Cayless and Vatuvei took the game out of Great Britain's reach in the third quarter, before Leon Pryce was unlucky to have a try ruled out for obstruction.

Even if all the debatable decisions had gone Great Britain's way, however, they would still have been outclassed by a New Zealand team on top of their game and taking advantage of every bounce of the ball, as Wiki did when Jones' kick hit the British crossbar with 10 minutes left to play.

"Credit where it's due," said Long. "The Kiwis were awesome and Stacey Jones was unbelievable." Where that honest appraisal leaves Great Britain is that they must now go to Brisbane, where they have not won a Test since 1962, and beat Australia in order to claim a place in the Tri-Nations final, back in Sydney the following week. "People will write us off, but they would be very silly to do that," said Noble, as the scale of the task sank in.

The Kiwis' confidence is such that they plan to reconvene their training camp in Australia on Wednesday to prepare for a final in which they are now convinced they will play.

Colin Love, the chairman of the Australian Rugby League and the game's International Federation, has accused the Kiwis of deception over the Nathan Fien affair, when the ineligible player appeared in two Tri-Nations matches. Love alleged that the team's management had been aware from the start that Fien did not qualify. "Some of the conduct now apparent has been disgraceful," he said.

New Zealand: Webb (NZ Warriors); Hape (Bradford), Soliola (Sydney Roosters), Matai (Manly), Vatuvei (NZ Warriors); Vagana (Cronulla), Jones (Catalans); Wiki (NZ Warriors, capt), Halatau (Wests Tigers), Asotasi (Canterbury), Kidwell (Melbourne), Mannering (NZ Warriors), Fa'alogo (South Sydney). Substitutes used: Tony (Hull), Cayless (Parramatta), Blair (Melbourne), Pritchard (Penrith).

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Pryce (St Helens), Senior (Leeds), Yeaman (Hull), Raynor (Hull); McGuire (Leeds), Long (St Helens); Fielden (Wigan), Newton (Bradford), Morley (Sydney Roosters), Peacock (Leeds, capt), Hock (Wigan), Ellis (Leeds). Substitutes: Roby (St Helens), Carvell (Hull), Gilmour (St Helens), Wilkin (St Helens).

Referee: P Simpkins (Australia).

* England rounded off a successful month by beating Tonga 32-14 to lift the Federation Shield after a stormy final at the Halton Stadium, Widnes, yesterday, writes Mike Latham. The Wakefield scrum-half Jamie Rooney completed an excellent personal tournament accounting for 16 points with six goals and one of England's five tries. However, the game was marred by disgraceful scenes in the final three minutes with Tonga finishing with 10 men after the sin-binning of Lopini Paea and the sendings-off of Joe Falemaka and the captain, Solomon Haumono, following a series of brawls. Three other players received yellow cards during the match, including the England forward Brett Ferres.

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