Rugby League: Britain strive for line in vain

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Great Britain. . .6

Australia . . . .10

ONE dropped ball, one missed tackle, one World Cup out of reach. Two blemishes on an otherwise indomitable defensive performance by Great Britain here yesterday were enough to give victory to Australia, whose centre, Steve Renouf, scored the only try of the afternoon 13 minutes from time.

The try was a disaster for two British players, Alan Hunte and the second-half substitute John Devereux. Just as it had begun to look as though Britain were capable of hanging on to their precarious 6-4 lead, given to them by Deryck Fox's boot, Hunte dropped the ball on the first tackle in his own 25.

'It was about the third or fourth time that I'd run at Allan Langer and I expected him to come high, like he had before,' Hunte said. 'But he went very low and I went head over heels and the ball just popped out. We still had our chance to defend and prevent the try, but obviously I'm gutted.'

Britain had tackled superbly all afternoon and Langer, the Australian dangerman, had spent most of the match trussed up like Madonna. They were not as successful in containing the threat of Steve Walters at acting half-back whose long pass to his brother Kevin, a substitute for Bradley Clyde after a shoulder injury, set up the try.

The younger Walters kept it moving to Renouf, who was able to shrug off a lunging challenge from Devereux. 'Once I'd beaten Devereux, I knew it was a try because the line was open,' said Renouf, who along with fellow- debutant Tim Brasher acquitted himself admirably in front of a partisan crowd of more than 73,000.

The blow was made even more severe by Mal Meninga, never the most reliable of kickers under these circumstances, landing an excellent goal from just inside the left touchline. That meant that Great Britain needed a try rather than merely a penalty to take the final into extra time. That was a tall order for a side which, for all their effort and energy, had only really looked like scoring a try once. That came midway through the second half when Alan Tait leapt high to take Fox's bomb only to be held up over the line.

A dramatic last 10 minutes saw Great Britain apply plenty of pressure without being able to cross the white line again. It seemed briefly that an Australian mistake might give them their chance, when Meninga knocked on from a play-the-ball, but their solid tackling kept out a series of thrusts at their line and Martin Dermott kicked dead as Britain ran out of ideas.

Another high kick from Fox ran loose for the substitute forward, Richard Eyres, to pick up and Andy Platt and Kelvin Skerrett both went agonisingly close to forcing the vital breach in the Australian defensive wall.

Garry Schofield then attacked down the left, but his pass was knocked down by Meninga and Australia survived again. Schofield had also been within inches in the second half of taking an interception from Meninga that would have put Britain in the clear.

'It just flicked off my fingertips,' the disappointed Great Britain captain said. 'That sort of thing is the margin between success and failure.'

Overall, however, Great Britain did not make enough chances to deserve to win the match. The narrow lead that they defended so bravely was built upon the most basic and conservative of game plans; six one-man drives, followed by a big kick. Within its own limited ambitions, this grinding approach worked.

Fox kicked them ahead after only two minutes on the first occasion that Britain went upfield. Brasher spilled the kick forward and Renouf, unable to ignore his instincts, dropped on to the ball from an obviously offside position giving Fox an easy penalty. Meninga equalised from in front of the sticks when Bob Lindner was held down.

A 40-yard penalty from Fox after Kevin Ward had the ball stolen from him put Britain back ahead. However, Meninga levelled again after Ward and Hanley had fouled him in the tackle.

Eight minutes before half-time, Britain hit the front again when Lindner took Steve Walters' pass in an offside position. Ankle injuries to Joe Lydon and Gary Connolly, two of their better performers in the first half, forced changes upon Great Britain after the interval.

British possession from the scrum kept the drama going until the very end, but despite their best efforts they could not find a way through. They had to play for 10 minutes without Shaun Edwards, who was sent to the sin bin for a late tackle on Renouf. They survived that only to succumb to Renouf's killer try.

'There's no doubt that we were the better side,' Bob Fulton, the Australian coach, said. 'We made about 15 half-breaks but Britain's scrambling defence was excellent. Great Britain never made a break at all.'

A harsh judgement, but not one which, for all Britain's courage and resolve, can be dismissed as wildly inaccurate.

GREAT BRITAIN: Lydon (Wigan); Hunte, Connolly (both St Helens), Schofield (Leeds, capt), Offiah; Edwards (both Wigan), Fox (Bradford Northern); Ward (St Helens), Dermott, Platt, Betts, Clarke (all Wigan), Hanley (Leeds). Substitutes: Devereux (Widnes) for Connolly, 40 min; Skerrett (Wigan) for Ward, 53 min; Tait (Leeds) for Lydon, 47 min; Eyres (Widnes) for Hanley, 75 min. Coach: M Reilly.

AUSTRALIA: Brasher (Balmain); Carne, Renouf (both Brisbane), Meninga (Canberra, capt), Hancock (Brisbane); Fittler (Penrith), Langer; Lazarus (both Brisbane), S Walters (Canberra), Sargent (Newcastle), Sironen (Balmain), Lindner (Wests), Clyde (Canberra). Substitutes: Cartwright (Penrith) for Sargent, 63 min; Gillespie (Wests) for Sironen, 40 min; K Walters (Brisbane) for Clyde, 44 min. Coach: B Fulton.

Referee: D Hale (New Zealand).

Scores: Fox (pen, 2 min) 2-0; Meninga (pen, 10 min) 2-2; Fox (pen, 22 min) 4-2; Meninga (pen, 26 min) 4-4; Fox (pen, 32 min) 6-4; Renouf/Meninga (try/goal 67 min) 6-10.

(Photograph omitted)