Waite's formula silences the doubters

Great Britain's Australian coach has been described as 'arrogant' but remarkable victory in first Test has left critics lost for words
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The Independent Online

When the Great Britain team-sheet was handed around before Sunday's first Test against Australia, the knives were not just out for David Waite – they were sharpened and gleaming.

After pulling the wool over the eyes of press and public the previous week, he had finally settled on a side who clearly over-indulged his obsession with the interchangability of players, with specialist loose forwards filling the positions of scrum-half, stand-off and hooker, as well as – by some oversight – loose forward.

Worse than that – although this was probably the fault of the photocopier operator, rather than the coach – both Richard Horne and Paul Johnson were listed twice. If the players were as confused as the observers, Great Britain were in deep trouble. If ever a "smart alec" was heading for a fall, it was Waite.

The revised line-up, with Horne and Johnson playing just once each, still looked an odd one. A couple of hours later, however, Waite's sternest critics had to hold up their hands and admit one thing: you might not warm to the man, but this was a damn well-prepared Great Britain rugby league team.

The multiplex cinema next to the McAlpine Stadium was screening previews of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Waite is no magician, but he is something of a philosopher – and his philosophy was vindicated during the drama that unfolded in the outdoor theatre.

This, remember, was a Great Britain team without stars, with the likes of Iestyn Harris and Jason Robinson strutting their stuff that same weekend – with varying degrees of success – on a different stage.

The threequarter line, however you looked at it, lacked the necessary fire power, and yet opposition that was – in theory and on paper – stronger man-for-man, was comprehensively outplayed.

One obvious reason was the difference in the quality of the two sides' preparation. Despite their denials, Australia – with their on-off build-up – were significantly under-done. Going straight into a Test without a warm-up game always looked like taking things a little too much for granted – and so it turned out.

Great Britain's preparation was much better, with plenty of time together as a squad and two games, against their own Under-21s and against France, to try out some new combinations.

It was still a surprise and a delight – as well as a tribute to the adaptability of the modern player – to see how well those combinations worked on Sunday. If you had said three weeks ago that Mike Forshaw and Kevin Sinfield would successfully divide dummy-half duties in a Test against Australia, you would have been laughed out of town, but those two were one of the strengths of the side.

And what of Horne? The 19-year-old Hull scrum-half was obliged to go through the charade on Thursday of pretending that he was in the starting line-up, when he knew full well that he was not. That sounds like a good way of messing up a young player's head before his Ashes debut, but Horne came into the game after half an hour and made an important contribution.

Of course, Sinfield, Forshaw and Horne would have played equally well had they been named in the roles they were actually destined to fill. The danger is that Waite will become even more addicted to pulling rabbits out of hats, to doing things for their cleverness rather than their effectiveness, and that is better left for Hogwarts.

One thing he will be very good at is keeping his team's feet on the ground in the build-up to the second Test at Bolton on Saturday. There will be no premature celebrations, partly because everyone is realistic enough to know that Australia, with the rust now burnt out of the engine, will be a very different proposition at the Reebok Stadium.

Other Great Britain coaches have been in this situation and they have not been able to take that extra stride that would win a series for the first time since 1970. Waite could now be that man. The objections to him – at least outside a xenophobic minority – are not that he is Australian, but that he gives the impression of being arrogant and supercilious. One more victory over the next two weeks and he will be forgiven the latter as well as the former.

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