Peacock answers tough questions with titanic style

The Lions captain has stamped his name on this Tri-Nations, writes Dave Hadfield in Brisbane
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The Independent Online

If there is one player who has enhanced his reputation during Great Britain's chequered Tri-Nations campaign then few in the southern hemisphere would look beyond Jamie Peacock.

They knew all about Adrian Morley from his turbulent seasons in the National Rugby League. They have been warned about Stuart Fielden and his prodigious appetite for the fray, but it is the Lions captain who has caught the eye and garnered the praise.

Peacock leads the side into their deciding Test againstAustralia in Brisbane tomorrow on the back of three epic individual performances in the Tri-Nations so far.

Even in defeat by New Zealand in Wellington, his coach, Brian Noble, called him "the best player on the park by a mile". In the bitter aftermath of that defeat, team-mates were coming up to him to thank him for his tireless effort.

"One of the aims I set myself at the start of the season was to come here and play well and I think I've achieved that," Peacock says. "That's the best three matches I've put together for a while. I thought the first two-thirds of the season at Leeds I went well, but then my form went down with the team's."

Noble had noticed that. "He looked a very tired player late in the season," he says. "But I was never too concerned because a true champion like him will always come through."

It has not been an easy trip on which to be captain. Apart from the baffling highs and lows of fluctuating team performances there have been all manner of off-field distractions, culminating in the departure of a player who should have been one of Peacock's most important lieutenants, Sean Long.

Peacock diplomatically says that he is disappointed for Long, rather than with him: "Because I know what a good player he is. But he's history now. Just because one player goes home, it doesn't suddenly mean everyone wants to. Everyone who's here wants to play."

It is all a far cry from Peacock's first trip to Australia as a teenager, when he was not making the progress Bradford had expected from him and was farmed out to play local rugby league in Wollongong. Since then a late developer has made up for lost time.

"He's willed himself to become the leader he is today," says Noble. "Although I don't know how naturally the role comes to him. He leads by example. He doesn't say anything unless he has to and he's not one for Churchillian speeches, but when he talks people listen.

"He's had his trials and tribulations on this tour. There have been a lot of young people on the trip who have been homesick and even though you're surrounded by people it can be very lonely.

"You look at the Marcus Trescothick situation and Longy was honest enough to say that he couldn't handle it, mentally or physically."

That was a potential crisis point and Noble knows all about such matters having been widely credited as Great Britain captain in 1984 with holding together a disintegrating tour. "As a young man, I found it tough, but you try not to let it all fall apart because it's got your name stamped on it."

So far, this tour has had Peacock's name writ large on it. "It's good when people say nice things about you but I don't take too much notice," he says.

"The real satisfaction comes when your team-mates say they enjoyed playing with you. That's the most satisfying thing. It's good when they say things like that; it's what you play the game for."

Peacock and a few others will have to play a game of their lives tomorrow if they are to win at a ground where they have not won a Test since 1962. "I don't read much into the history. It's got no bearing on this match. I've heard a lot about the atmosphere, but that can be overrated. When the game starts, you don't hear any of the abuse they're shouting at you. You're just concentrating on beating Australia.

"I think we can bounce back and do that. You get knocked down but it's how you handle it and there's been a new determination about the boys in training this week. You have some rough days. Everyone misses home at times, but this isn't just a great group of players, it's a great group of blokes.

"There's some real characters and some really strong people and quite a few of the senior players have helped to hold it together at times like these."