Rugby League: Britain's foundations set firm for the future: Schofield plugged in to the positive elements. Dave Hadfield reports

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The Independent Online
THERE is a temptation, after a series won more emphatically than anyone could have predicted, to blow the leaves off the calendar, Hollywood-style, to bring us to next autumn ahead of time.

The Kiwis are not Australia. But the way they were dispatched in the three-match series inevitably raises the question of how much the prospects of success against the 1994 Kangaroos have been improved.

It would be easy to be carried away by a simplistic analysis of form. New Zealand drew with Australia earlier this year and lost the other two Tests by margins of eight and 12 points; the closest they could get to Great Britain was 17.

There are many positive points to relish. The British captain, Garry Schofield, who has been in Test teams since 1984, calls this the best squad in that time. Howie Tamati, the Kiwis coach, regards this as the best Great Britain side he has seen - but then he would, wouldn't he?

Greg McCallum, who refereed the series with his customary quiet authority, also believes that the steady improvement in the Test team's ability has continued.

Indeed, it would be hard for anyone to argue that the threequarter line, or even the backs as a whole, are not the most capable we have produced for a long, long time.

It is impossible not to be optimistic about the back row of the pack, where Phil Clarke, at 22, was the old man on Saturday and there is a choice of Denis Betts, Chris Joynt, Michael Jackson, Sonny Nickle, Richard Eyres and the most exciting of the lot, Andy Farrell, for the other two positions.

It is not churlish, however, to sound a few notes of caution. Any Test side is the product of standards within the domestic game and there McCallum, who also refereed a number of First Division games during his month here, has his doubts.

'At club level, the game here has been improving, but it now seems to have hit a plateau and levelled off,' he says.

'There are still basic faults that Australia will exploit. British players are still too slow around the play-the-ball - something that was not shown up by the Kiwi hooker, Duane Mann, because although the brain is still there the legs aren't.

'A good Australian hooker - like either of the Walters brothers - would make ground against British defences all the time. In possession, your players aren't interested in playing the ball quickly. All they want to do is milk the penalty.'

Even Malcolm Reilly, who could be excused from basking in the glory of one of his finest hours and who has surely put aside any thoughts of standing down, is cautious.

'I wouldn't say we're ready for Australia yet,' he says. 'There's a lot of work still to do and we still need a bit more beef.'

Those are old themes from Reilly, but how encouraging it is for him and for us to hear Clarke - a sound choice as man of the series - already thinking ahead.

'We all have to set ourselves goals over the next 12 months, to use the rest of this season and the summer to work on whatever we need to improve - be it strength, speed or even rugby ability,' he says.

As for the Kiwis, those who claim that this tour has set the code in New Zealand back 10 years are pitching it a bit high. In the battle for hearts and minds with rugby union, however, it will have done damage.

Tamati is surely doomed, a poor fate for a likeable and capable man. It will be interesting to see whether he now joins the chorus of former Kiwi coaches, future Kiwi coaches and wannabe Kiwi coaches which was eager to give him so much advice.

In the end, Tamati was so bombarded with advice that he could not distinguish the useful from the useless and retreated into a private argument with himself.

Graham Lowe, who still casts a long shadow over Kiwi rugby league, is just one who believes that team selection and tactics were wrong-headed from the start.

'The trouble with Howie is that he thinks asking for help is a sign of weakness, whereas it's really a sign of strength,' he says.

No amount of help will save Tamati from the flak that awaits him in New Zealand and next autumn will show whether Britain's signs of strength are real or illusory.

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