Rugby League: Britain with a weight problem: Dave Hadfield on the lessons for the beaten rugby league Lions as they leave Australia to tour New Zealand

Click to follow
The Independent Online
GREAT BRITAIN'S rugby league tourists fly to New Zealand today still aching from the disappointment of ending the Australian leg of their tour in failure.

Failure seems a harsh word to apply to a record that includes just one other defeat outside Tests and a mere six-point losing margin in the series decider in Brisbane on Friday night.

But the Lions were beaten more soundly at Lang Park than a 16-10 scoreline suggests. All the members of a particularly level-headed tour party are aware of that and that realisation will make the task in New Zealand all the more difficult.

The conclusion of the Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, after the Brisbane Test that the British game needs 'more bulk, more power and more size' is a depressing one for those who believe that rugby league is a code in which other qualities can outweigh sheer brute strength. It was hard to argue with that assessment of the situation after the third Test, however.

Australia's coach, Bob Fulton, encapsulated his successful philosophy in similar terms. 'If we could get our big men running at their smaller men, they would crack,' he said.

He was proved exactly right, and he still believes he would have been right in the Test at Melbourne that Great Britain won so handsomely a week earlier had Australia not dropped so much ball.

The Australian prop, Glenn Lazarus, described the psychological approach he and his team- mates had adopted in the week between the second and third Tests. 'We kept telling ourselves that we were the best pack in the world, and that they were just a club pack,' he said.

That was literally true, because all six forwards in Great Britain's starting line-up came from Wigan. The extra cohesion that brought to their game proved enough to swing the balance at Melbourne; it never looked like doing so in Brisbane, where the Australian forwards' one and a half stone per man advantage had Britain back- pedalling from the start.

There is no easy answer to this imbalance, because Britain simply does not produce forwards of the size of Lazarus, Paul Harragon and Paul Sironen without a disastrous loss of mobility. The only two players who might have made a difference on Friday night were Paul Moriarty, the former Welsh rugby union player who was in destructive form for Widnes before badly injuring his shoulder early last season, and Kevin Ward, still the prop Australians fear most but who has retired from international rugby.

Having those two fit and available might have altered the equation to some extent, but the moral of this series is that, over three matches in the style of the game now, the more physically powerful side is likely to come out on top.

The result of that lesson is likely to be an even greater emphasis on weight and strength-training starting in earnest at an earlier age. That will have had no effect by the time the two sides next meet, however, in the World Cup final at Wembley on 24 October. There seems certain to be a capacity crowd for that match, which would be a record for international rugby league, and Great Britain will again fancy their chances of staging an ambush at the stadium where they won the first Test of the 1990 series.

Before that, there is the awkward little trip to New Zealand to be negotiated. Great Britain won a fine series by two Tests to one there in 1990, but going there after the Australian section of this tour is a very different proposition.

Auckland have a record of lying in wait for wounded sides and will be doing so again for the first match of the tour on Wednesday. There are then two Tests, at Palmerston North and Auckland, separated by a game against Canterbury at Christchurch.

Britain may have to tackle this postscript to their Australian disappointment without much immediate help from two of their most experienced players. The Test full-back, Graham Steadman, has his wrist in splints with ligament damage and his Castleford team- mate, Lee Crooks, is still struggling with a rib cartilage injury.

Members of the New South Wales Under-19 team who played the curtain-raiser at Lang Park were among passengers on a plane from Brisbane to Sydney which turned back in an emergency when an engine exploded shortly after take-off yesterday morning. Nobody was hurt as the plane was evacuated.

Comments