Revenge of the wounded kangaroo

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The Independent Online

"Beware the injured kangaroo'' read the banner and as anybody who has ever driven in the outback will testify, running into one leaves a hell of a dent. Indeed, this was a bash to the confidence that Great Britain must somehow recover from in a little under a week if this Ashes series is not to be just another write-off in the record books.

The seven-try demolition, that was at times painful to watch, served to fuel the paranoia of even the least suspicious of conspiracy theorists that last week's unexpected, undreamed of, victory over the world champions at Huddersfield was little more than a ploy to boost flagging ticket sales for the remaining Tests. The first Tests in 1990 and 1994 had been won with similar heroism by Britain and then the series lost with similar zeroism so why should this year be different?

Apart from not having the desired effect – tickets were still on sale 10 minutes after the kick-off at the Reebok Stadium – the conspiracists (most of who were rumoured to be from south of the Watford Gap) were ignoring the improvements that the Australian born coach David Waite had made to the Great Britain side, who had shown a refreshing mix of experience and young talent. That the Waite blend was shown to be as weak as that famous Australian lager was down to the brilliance of the Kangaroos, expertly marshalled by their scrum-half Andrew Johns, who were intent on taking revenge with maximum damage.

It was Johns' wonderfully subtle pass that put Brad Fittler through for the first try; it was Johns' probings and practical kicking that kept Britain pegged back in the opening quarter to such an extent that they did not carry the ball out of their own half until the 11th minute; and it was Johns' try after rugby league's version of the one-two with Darren Lockyer that made it a no contest in the 17th minute.

The crowd had come with the expectation of seeing a 31-year-old score settled – the last time Britain had won an Ashes series. But by half-time and with the score at 24-0 they were left to hang on to the hope that a 38-year-old record – the biggest score posted in an Ashes match – would not be broken. But when Johns went through the British defence within minutes of the restart even this was looking based in dreamland. That was until Britain produced the ending our underdogs can always be relied upon.

There were many Australian plus points, but the biggest was Johns, who at last had the stage to show Britain just why his country rate him the best rugby player in the world, whatever the code. In last year's World Cup he was denied the spotlight when played out of position as a hooker. Last week he was overshadowed by the bewildering young Britons. But last night he took top billing and put in a virtuoso performance. It was prematurely brought to an end with a rib injury with 20 minutes remaining. The British had seen enough by then.

They had also seen enough of Bill Harrigan, the referee whose performance, although not so reprehensible that it was an excuse for the result, was still bad enough to make his nickname "Bungling Bill" the stuff of northern folklore. He reinvented the metre with his version of the 10-metre rule at the play-the-ball. But perhaps the finest bungle of the night was when he and his touch judge missed a fumble by Lockyer that could very well win "Knock-on of the Year''.

It was little consolation for the British that the Australian referee was not up to much. But on a night when consolation was in short supply even the slightest Aussie deficiency was worth grabbing hold of. "Beware the injured the Lion'' just does not have the same ring.

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