Rugby League: Britain pay for ignoring basics

Great Britain 16 New Zealand 22
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The Independent Online
MUCH AS they might argue that they were unlucky in the first Lincoln Test at Huddersfield on Saturday, Great Britain have themselves largely to blame for giving New Zealand a start in the series.

Andy Goodway's team played in flurries and flashes, but lost because they forgot two of the basic principals of the game. They are that you should put your faith in your best players and that you must always play to the whistle.

Great Britain started to give the initiative to the Kiwis when they played the first 24 minutes without Iestyn Harris. By the time he came on, warmed up and got involved, most of the first half had been spent adjusting and re-adjusting. What he achieved in the second half surely proved that he should have been there from the start.

Goodway is addicted to obscuring and complicating selection issues. He fooled every- one with a couple of his permu-tations on Saturday, and much good it did him.

He could not, however, be blamed for the scandalous blunder at the end of the first half that gave the Kiwis a 12-point lead. Experienced professionals lost track of the fact that the half does not end when the hooter sounds, but when the next tackle is completed.

Bill Harrigan's interpretation was that the play-the-ball was in progress, so Joe Vagana was allowed to go through and score. The Great Britain camp were making no loud complaints afterwards about that decision, nor about Keith Senior being denied a penalty try in the last minute. They will surely think, on closer scrutiny, that they have a stronger case on that one. Senior was coolly and precisely taken out by Robbie Paul while still in the air.

It still would have required a touch-line conversion to salvage a draw. They deserved the chance, but not the result, because New Zealand's was ultimately the more convincing performance.

They looked like a side bound together by two recent defeats by Australia, rather than one battered by the experience, and there were individual performances of the highest merit.

Their coach, Frank Endacott, singled out his captain, Quentin Pongia, who achieved the rarity of playing the entire 80 minutes of the Test at prop. "There is no tougher forward in the game," Endacott said.

Steve Kearney is still as complete a second-rower as there is in the world, while Stacey Jones was a darting, sniping menace at scrum-half.

There was a major contribution, as well, from both of the Paul brothers. There was little evidence in Robbie's form for Bradford this year that he could play stand-off successfully in Test rugby, but he handled the role with aplomb at Huddersfield.

Henry came on to replace the hooker, Syd Eru, after 33 minutes - and played so well that Endacott changed his plans and left him there for the rest of the match. "I was going to bring Syd back, but Henry was just going too good," said Endacott, who finished with the luxury of unused substitutions still up his sleeve - a sure sign of things working out better than expected.

The Pauls played a prominent part in the two beautifully-crafted tries that won the game, Henry getting the ball away to Jones and Robbie then taking an even better pass from Kearney.

Great Britain had their chances - more of them, in fact - but they could not match that clinical finishing.

There were, however, plenty of good things in their performance which can be built upon as they gain the cohesion during this series that the Kiwis already have at their disposal.

Young players like Senior and Lee Gilmour did splendidly and all four of the props involved did enough to deserve another crack, although none of them had to match Pongia's marathon effort.

There should also be a special mention for Paul Sculthorpe, who wore the stand-off shirt, played loose-forward and second-row before moving to hooker for the injured Keiron Cunningham. He must be wondering what he has done wrong not to get a run on the wing.

Both Cunningham and Adrian Morley, ruled out of this match with an ankle injury, should be fit for the second Test at Bolton on Saturday. They are both needed, but the balance of the side also demands that Harris plays a full part.

There was the compelling evidence on Saturday that, in the Leeds captain, we do have the player who can break down the New Zealand defence. Great Britain cannot afford to give the Kiwis half an hour's respite or even a minute's start when the two sides meet again.

GREAT BRITAIN: Radlinski (Wigan); Robinson (Wigan), Connolly (Wigan), Newlove (St Helens), Senior (Sheffield); Farrell (Wigan, capt), Smith (Wigan); Cowie (Wigan), Cunningham (St Helens), Fleary (Leeds), Joynt (St Helens), Gilmour (Wigan), Sculthorpe (St Helens). Substitutes used: Harris (Leeds), Laughton (Sheffield), Haughton (Wigan), O'Connor (Wigan).

NEW ZEALAND: Barnett (Sydney City); Hoppe (Auckland), K Iro (Auckland), Wiki (Canberra), Halligan (Canterbury); R Paul (Bradford), Jones (Auckland); Vagana (Auckland), Eru (Auckland), Pongia (Auckland, capt), McCracken (Parramatta), Kearney (Auckland), Swann (Auckland). Substitutes used: H Paul (Wigan), T Iro (Adelaide), Puletua (Penrith), Cayless (Parramatta).

Referee: B Harrigan (Australia).