Lions pass opening test in Highlands

PNG President's XIII 8 Great Britain 34
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The Independent Online
Great Britain overcame the problems of playing in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to get their tour off to a convincing start yesterday.

A side with little international experience did a solid and confident job against an enterprising President's XIII - effectively the Kumuls' second team - in Mount Hagen. Rugby is never easy in the Highlands, but the Lions coped admirably with the thin air and temperatures that tested the fitness of players, many of whom have not had a match for more than a month.

It was almost too straightforward in the opening exchanges. Before Great Britain had even needed to stop for their first drink or gulp of oxygen, their captain Daryl Powell's pass had sent in his former Sheffield team- mate Keith Senior. Great Britain went 10-0 ahead thanks to Karle Hammond's short pass to David Bradbury. It was all in keeping with the day's hectic schedule, which involved flying into the Highlands for the game and dashing back to the airport to catch the last flight before nightfall.

After that initial flourish, there was never much doubt that the Lions would be departing with a win under their belt, although their coach, Phil Larder, noted that complacency crept into their play before half- time.

The President's XIII were always looking to throw the ball around and some excellent handling gained its reward when Chris Itam went in at the corner despite the efforts of Hammond and Steve Prescott to force him into touch.

Great Britain had four tries disallowed, one by James Lowes for no discernible reason, before they took control of the game. Hammond sent Barrie-Jon Mather striding away and then did well to support him on the outside to score. Lowes then made up for his disallowed efforts when Powell, a reassuring captain for such a young side, stole the ball and sent him through a defence that waited in vain for a penalty to be awarded.

The home side responded to the challenge with David Tiki wriggling out of Jason Critchley's tackle, but two tries in rapid succession from Tony Smith gave the final scoreline a most satisfactory look. All that remained was to run the gauntlet of local fans, most of whom only came in after the gates had been opened in the second half.

John Roper and Neil Harmon proved to be the first casualties of battle: Roper damaged knee ligaments and Harmon was concussed just two minutes into his first match since June. They will not be considered for the next few matches, but there are others, like Powell, Bradbury and Rowland Phillips, who will make Larder think seriously about the fine-tuning of the Test side to play Papua New Guinea in Lae on Saturday.

PRESIDENT'S XIII: John; Tiki, Mosoka, Poka, Itam; Buka, Mal; Sari, Daniel, Batki, Aki, Norman, Kamiak. Substitutes used: Tete, Zuku, Kaiyamon, Sune.

GREAT BRITAIN: Prescott (St Helens); Roper (Warrington), Mather (Western Reds), Senior (Sheffield), Critchley (Keighley); Powell (Keighley), Smith (Castleford); Molloy (Featherstone), Lowes (Bradford), McDermott (Bradford), Bradbury (Oldham), Cassidy (Wigan), Hammond (St Helens). Substitutes used: Tollett (London), Harmon (Leeds), Morley (Leeds), Phillips (Workington).

Referee: T Kuni (Port Moresby).