Noble's tactical trickery key to foiling Lockyer

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The Independent Online

History beckons for Great Britain at Elland Road this evening, but their coach wants his players to put all such considerations out of their minds when they face Australia in the final of the Tri-Nations.

History beckons for Great Britain at Elland Road this evening, but their coach wants his players to put all such considerations out of their minds when they face Australia in the final of the Tri-Nations.

It is 32 years since Great Britain won the World Cup, two years after their previous success in an Ashes series. For a series win on British soil, you have to go back to 1959 so, although Brian Noble wants to treat this as any other game, the reality is that it is anything but.

It has been one of Noble's triumphs in his first autumn in charge that he has maintained an even keel in the British camp. They have not been too high when they have won, or too low when they have lost. British teams have been on the verge of something special, but they have often been emotionally exhausted. Not this lot; their feet are firmly on the ground.

Another difference is in the depth of self-belief. Of their past five matches against Australia, they have won one and could have won the other four. Any inferiority complex is long gone.

The issue, as ever, is finishing the job. "Those past five matches have taught us that we're a very good side," said the British captain, Andy Farrell. "But you're not an outstanding side and you don't go down in history until you win something."

Noble has had to make some difficult decisions this week but, once he settled on his preferred half-back combination, most of his tricky choices will have been on the bench.

He has hinted that he might have kept a tactical variation up his sleeve for the final, which could mean a second hooker among the substitutes or a subtly different role for one or more of his forwards.

Noble admits that one or two players have forced their way further towards the front of the queue than he might have expected. Sean O'Loughlin surely falls into that category and he should be somewhere in the 17.

Australia's Wayne Bennett has relegated one of his regulars, Craig Fitzgibbon, to the bench, with Andrew Ryan starting the game in his place. The Sydney City second-rower has been troubled with a shoulder injury and has not been at his best, but it is still a surprise that Bennett has dropped his first-choice goalkicker.

That puts even more of an onus on Darren Lockyer, who has not played a full game for five weeks, but is still regarded as the key to Australia winning.

"Darren Lockyer playing could be a bonus for us," Noble insisted. "We'll send a lot of traffic his way and see how his engine holds up. Having said that, if you leave him alone and let him play he can win any match."

There is so much to look forward to at Elland Road tonight - how often, for instance, has a Great Britain threequarter line looked the more dangerous going into a decider against Australia? - that it is ridiculous that much of the attention this week should have been focused not on the event, but on the question of whether it will be repeated next year.

A full house will underline the tournament's success, but that in itself will not impress the selfish Australian clubs nor the weak-kneed administrators who fail to stand up in them.

One thing that might ensure its continuity is Great Britain ending their long wait. That would have two effects. It would make a staging of the tournament in Australia next year a saleable commodity and it would make it psychologically difficult for the Kangaroos to refuse the chance to win back their crown at the first opportunity.

But what will that crown be? Bennett refused to concede this week that Great Britain would be world champions if they win tonight. Britons will not be so reticent; after a 32-year gap, it is a title that will be seized upon eagerly.

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