Peacock ready to tough it out in absence of Farrell

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The Independent Online

The New Zealander has been appointed to referee his fellow countrymen because Australia refuse to have him in charge of either of their games against Great Britain. If he is to be used in the Tri-Nations, therefore, it has to be in this fixture, although the Australians, who blocked his appointment for last year's final, will accept him being in charge for their extra match, against France on 12 November.

"The Australians will accept me for a second-tier Test, but not for the top one. It's very frustrating, to be honest," Black said.

"The neutral referee bit has gone out the back door. It's not ideal me doing the Kiwis. I feel a bit uneasy doing that."

The build-up to the first match of the English tournament has also been complicated by confusion over the two sides' half-backs.

For the Kiwis, Stacey Jones was in and out of international retirement: back home in Auckland when his team-mates flew out, and then allegedly injured when he caught up with them. There now seems little doubt that he will play - and he makes more difference to them than any other player.

Britain have some difficult decisions to make in the same area of the field. Brian Noble's initial impulse might have been to start with Richard Horne and Rob Burrow, but one fears for the barrage to which the diminutive Burrow could be subjected in the early minutes at Loftus Road.

So well have Iestyn Harris and Paul Deacon played for him at Bradford in the latter stages of the season that they must also have crossed Noble's mind, but that plan has been complicated by Harris being due to become a father this weekend.

Neither Horne nor Harris was in the 19 Noble named yesterday, which could point to a partnership of Deacon and Kevin Sinfield, with Burrow on the bench ready to take advantage of the tired patches to which the big Kiwi forwards are susceptible.

Noble is adamant that Keith Senior is fit, but the Leeds centre has not played since August and we will only really know how fit he is when he puts his full weight on his ankle at full speed, with a Kiwi reception committee waiting.

It will be a night when strong leadership is needed and it will be the first test of how Great Britain will adapt to the absence of Andy Farrell, its dominant figure for a decade.

Noble says that leadership is now spread through the team, but it will still be a major test for the man who wears the armband, Jamie Peacock. He is a relatively inexperienced captain, but one thing that is not in any doubt is his toughness. This is a man who said that if he had needed to have a testicle removed after the Grand Final - as doctors said he might - that he would be out "for a couple of weeks".

New Zealand have had cause for grievance this week over Bradford's rush to get Lesley Vainikolo under the knife, thus ruling him out of the Tri-Nations tournament.

Having had his say on that issue, though, the new Kiwi coach, Brian McClennan, has refused to dwell on his loss, because his side has not exactly been weak on the wings in its two games against Australia.

"Jake Webster has been outstanding and Manu Vatuvei is just like a young Lesley Vainikolo - only bigger," he says.

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