Rugby League / First Test: Britain's mighty dozen: Captain Edwards is sent off, but the Kangaroos are tied down by inspirational Davies

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The Independent Online
Great Britain. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 Australia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4 GREAT BRITAIN transformed what threatened to be a day of disgrace here yesterday into a triumph that will rank among the most dramatic in rugby league history. They inflicted on the Australian world champions a defeat that was almost unthinkable even before their captain Shaun Edwards was sent off for a reckless high tackle with an hour of punishing rugby still to play.

The man who made the victory possible by scoring a brilliant try at a crucial moment in the first half was the Welshman Jonathan Davies. But as Davies admitted afterwards, it was the heroic defence of the 12-man British team that was the telling factor in crushing the Australian composure.

Davies himself made the massive contribution to that heroism with a series of try- saving tackles, and it was during one of Britain's frantic rearguard moments that Davies had to go off with an injured shoulder 21 minutes from the end.

He was in the dressing-room receiving treatment when it was announced that he had won the man-of-the-match award.

But none of these British players could look in the dressing-room and not see a hero. Sadly that honour could not belong to the man who led them into this game. The coach Ellery Hanley had entrusted Edwards with the captaincy to general assent and it was a fitting reward for a great career.

The tactics that Hanley had helped to lay down for Britain against their bigger opponents seemed to be working admirably as Britain held their ground during the first 20 minutes.

But in the 25th minute came one of the first glimpses of Australia on the rampage and when the Australian skipper Mal Meninga sent Bradley Clyde clear down the right, Great Britain looked vulnerable for the first time. Even so, there was no reason for the sudden overdose of patriotic excess that drove Edwards to floor Clyde with a stiff right-arm tackle that sent the 6ft 1in, 15st forward crashing to the turf. The Australian referee Graham Annesley has no hesitation in sending Edwards off. Clyde needed treatment, returned 10 minutes later, but collapsed in the tunnel at the interval and was taken to hospital for a brain scan. He was later released. Edwards claimed afterwards that the tackle was an accident but was the first Great Britain captain to be dismissed from an international.

But if Australia thought that their new advantage would tilt the balance of this tight game in their favour, they were soon relieved of the feeling by Davies.

The full-back took the ball at the first tackle and surprised the Australians by kicking deep into a gap on the left. Davies could have reached the ball first as it bounced towards the Australian line but he was shouldered to the ground by Paul Sironen and the referee awarded a penalty, which Davies converted to give Britain the lead in the 32nd minute.

Five minutes later, Alan Hunte made a break down the left and from the next play-the- ball, Phil Clarke fed Denis Betts, and the Wigan man found Davies to his right. Without breaking step, Davies sent Steve Renouf the wrong way with a delicious feint and ran more than 40 yards to touch down in the corner.

Davies missed the kick but had done enough to ignite his team, plus Wembley's 57,000, with the feeling that a great upset was on the cards. He said: 'I didn't think it would be the match-winning try so early on. We thought that if we just defended, made things difficult for them and took our chances, we had a chance.'

The substitute Bobby Goulding, who many thought should have started the game, was among the more inspirational of the brave hearts on view. Even when Renouf crashed over for a try to bring the Australians within two points, Goulding continued to turn defence into attack.

He failed with a drop goal but when a panicking Australia gave away a penalty for laying on 30 yards from goal, he coolly scored and Britain saw out the three minutes that separated them from a place in history.

The Australians made no excuses afterwards and praised the British. With two Tests still to go, we certainly haven't heard the last of them.

GREAT BRITAIN: Davies (Warrington); Robinson, Connolly (both Wigan), Hunte (St Helens), Offiah (Wigan); Powell (Sheffield), Edwards (Wigan, capt); Harrison (Halifax), Jackson (Sheffield), Joynt (St Helens), Betts, Farrell, Clarke (all Wigan). Replacements: McDermott (Wigan) for Powell, 23; Goulding (St Helens) for Farrell, 31; Bateman (Warrington) for Davies, 58; Cassidy (Wigan) for Harrison, 61.

AUSTRALIA: Mullins (Canberra); Ettingshausen (Cronulla), Meninga (Canberra, capt), Renouf, Sailor (both Brisbane); Daley (Canberra), Langer (Brisbane); Roberts (Manly), Walters (Canberra), Harragon (Newcastle), Sironen (Balmain), Clyde (Canberra), Fittler (Penrith). Replacements: Furner (Canberra) for Clyde, 40; Pay (Canterbury) for Sironen, 52; Stuart (Canberra) for Daly, 56.

Referee: G Annesley (Australia).

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