Rugby League: Australian perfection, British capitulation

Great Britain 20 Australia 37
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It finished up looking almost respectable, but anyone who was here for the deciding Test of the British Gas series knows that it was nothing of the sort.

Great Britain were wiped out during the first half that was as one-sided as anything in the recent history of meetings between the two sides. That they came back to win the second half was an honourable irrelevance and one that should not cloud judgements over how much of a gap there was between the two teams yesterday.

It is not possible to give Australia the sort of start they were given here and emerge with anything other than consolation prizes. There have been some dreadful beginnings to Tests over the years but none worse than this when Laurie Daley's kick was too well angled for Paul Atcheson to reach and Ken Nagas got in for a try after only 45 seconds.

There was an air of the inevitable thereafter, even though James Lowes went closest to scoring a first-half try for Great Britain eight minutes later when Australia's man of the match Darren Smith saved his kick through.

Great Britain did get points on the board immediately after from Andy Farrell's penalty when Brad Thorn held Paul Broadbent in a tackle, but that was a brief interlude in what turned into a miserable first 40 minutes.

Australia had one try disallowed when Bradley Clyde's pass to Nagas was ruled forward, but they soon claimed their second when Great Britain, under pressure from the moment Bobbie Goulding kicked straight into touch, conceded a scrum from which Darren Lockyer sent Wendell Sailor through some ineffectual tackling.

"Our handling errors made us our own worst enemies in the first half," said Farrell, and it was a case in point when his own pass bounced off Adrian Morley for Ryan Girdler to pick up and speed down field. He managed to get the ball inside for Sailor to outpace the cover and touch down.

Four minutes later Atcheson, who had played so well at Old Trafford, suffered a double misfortune. He had Lockyer's kick comfortably covered, but lost it in the impact of a double tackle for Daley to scoop up and stroll home. Atcheson stayed down with what were later diagnosed as injuries to mouth and groin, quite apart from his wounded pride.

That wonderfully balanced full-back Lockyer added a drop goal for good measure before Thorn emphasised the frailties of Britain in defence as well as with the ball in their hands by going straight though Goulding and holding off three other tacklers to score. At 25-2, Britain's biggest- ever losing margin of 38 points was beckoning.

There was no immediate improvement in the second half with Smith going through some token efforts at tackling for the softest of tries from dummy- half.

At least the arrival of Simon Haughton in the British pack had given it a bit of punch, although he was fortunate not to have the first of his two tries disallowed when at least two of his team-mates seemed to be offside in pursuit of Goulding's bomb. Australia let the ball bounce in a way that suggested some lessons from their hosts and Haughton played to the whistle to score.

Australia responded with a beautifully worked try, slick handling from four team-mates letting Robbie Kearns finish the move.

Australia's failure to capitalise on a devastating break by Andrew Ettingshausen was typical of a number of chances that went to ground and prevented Britain's embarrassment becoming even deeper. As it was, two tries in the last six minutes put a deceptively optimistic gloss on the dying stages of the 12th series Great Britain have lost to Australia since their last success in 1970.

Jason Robinson demonstrated that he at least compares with the best anywhere in the world with some dazzling footwork for one try and then Haughton showed the raw strength that can make him an important player for his country over the next few years by taking Lowes' pass and forcing his way down the blind side.

"The goal we set at half-time was merely to win the second half. We did that and we opened up a little more and played some decent stuff," said the Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway.

"But we contributed to our own downfall in the first half. We gave Australia more of the game than we should have and against that sort of opposition you are going to pay."

The Australian captain, Daley, who admitted plotting the start of Britain's downfall with that first-minute kick, called Australia's first 40 minutes "nearly a perfect half of football". Or, as Britain's assistant coach, Shaun McRae, put it : "It was the equivalent of a fighter being knocked down in the first round. It makes it very hard to come back."

GREAT BRITAIN: Atcheson (St Helens); Robinson (Wigan), Radlinski (Wigan), Newlove (St Helens), Hunte (St Helens); Farrell (Wigan, capt), Goulding (St Helens); McDermott (Bradford), Lowes (Bradford), Broadbent (Sheffield), Joynt (St Helens), Morley (Leeds), Sculthorpe (Warrington). Substitutes used: Long (St Helens) Haughton (Wigan), McNamara (Bradford), Forshaw (Bradford).

AUSTRALIA: Lockyer (Brisbane); Nagas (Canberra), Ettingshausen (Cronulla), Girdler (Penrith), Sailor (Brisbane); Daley (Canberra, capt), Gower (Penrith); Stevens (Cronulla), Walters (North Queensland), Thorn (Brisbane), Tallis (Brisbane), Clyde (Canberra), Smith (Brisbane). Substitutes used: Kearns (Perth), Adamson (Penrith), Kimmorley (Hunter), Richardson (Cronulla).

Referee: P Houston (NZ).