Rugby League: Britain ready to prey with Kiwis in flap: Tourists face whitewash

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The Independent Online
IT WOULD be difficult not to read indications of the current balance of power between the two countries in the changes Great Britain and New Zealand have made for the final Test at Headingley this afternoon.

With the series already lost, the Kiwis have taken measures that smack of desperation and leave them looking less likely to salvage something from the wreckage.

Malcolm Reilly, on the other hand, has made adjustments because of form and fitness that give him a line-up even more exciting than the one which won in such style at Wigan a week ago.

With all due respect to Karl Harrison's important contribution to the first two victories, few would disagree that Kelvin Skerrett has been the best prop in Britain this season. Now that any residual grudge from his omission for the World Cup final last year has been buried, Skerrett's explosive power is a bonus in any pack.

Given the dearth of genuine props, Reilly is quite happy to play a converted back row at No 10. His original choice, Richie Eyres, dropped out yesterday with gastric flu, allowing Karl Fairbank back into the side.

Andy Farrell's lack of experience should not be a worry to anyone either, because here is a truly remarkable young player who invites all manner of comparisons. His ball skills recall Bill Ashurst just as surely as his build puts him in a bracket with Australian giants like Paul Sironen and Mark Geyer.

With Shaun Edwards passing a fitness test on his shoulder, the back division who combined so fluently at Central Park remain intact. The main danger for them lies in complacency, but Reilly is traditionally good at keeping such heresy at bay.

The removal of the tour captain, Gary Freeman, from the firing line is a tribute to the way Edwards has spiked his guns. It also owes something to a clash of personalities between Freeman and the coach, Howie Tamati, which has expressed itself on and off the pitch.

His replacement, Aaron Whittaker, is a tidy little player who will follow instructions, but it is asking too much to expect him to be as influential as Freeman, or for Denvour Johnston to adequately replace Duane Mann.

Apart from the excitement of a first Test cap, Whittaker is playing to impress a new club. He wants to play in England again and one certainty, however he fares today, is that he is already out of the price- range of his previous side here, Chorley Borough, now in the National Conference League.

The replacement of Sean Hoppe by Jason Williams is entirely justified on form, but Tamati should have gone further by abandoning the faith in his ability to reinvigorate Kevin Iro when the spark has all too clearly died.

To call up Richie Blackmore only as a substitute is a belated and half- hearted measure. No doubt the dropping of three players regarded before the tour as arguably the Kiwis' best is thought to be enough of a revolution for now.

Earlier in the week, the beleaguered Tamati was warning against panic changes. The motto now has changed to one you sometimes see on the noticeboards of chaotic small businesses. Alongside 'You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps', it reads: 'If in doubt - panic.'

There is little doubt where the panic will lead; to a third and possibly a worse defeat than the first two.

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