Rugby League: Fulton searches in the dark for flaws: Dave Hadfield finds the Australian reaction to Test failure centres on careful scrutiny of video evidence of what went wrong for the 'invincible' Kangaroos

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The Independent Online
Bob Fulton, the Australian rugby league coach, sat down with a video machine yesterday and tried to work out what went wrong at Wembley. Some suspects have already been eliminated from inquiries, however, including one of the superficially more obvious ones. 'There was no complacency,' he said. 'The way that we started both halves showed that there was no complacency.'

Nor was there any question of his players believing their press cuttings; the ones in this paper and others which concluded, on the overwhelming evidence of their first matches here, that they had arrived from a different planet. 'They don't read the papers,' Fulton said. A matter of tour policy?

Another strand of Fulton's famed psychology? 'Not really. It's just that they would have to buy them themselves.'

If that is the case, the Kangaroos will also have avoided much of the analysis of Saturday's upset. There is certainly no sign of trauma. 'They are professionals,' Fulton said. 'They are used to treating one defeat as the first part of a series. They get on with doing what they do. They do their training, they play golf, they write postcards home.'

Maybe so, but Fulton was sacrificing his own daily trip to the golf course yesterday, and the messages back to Australia would have to wait as well.

Instead, a long session in a darkened room beckoned. 'We've got to fix a couple of things,' he said, his initial audit already showing more handling mistakes than the official statistics. The other thing which is already blindingly clear is the uncharacteristic lack of support for the half-break which sabotaged his side's efforts.

'When Alfie (Allan Langer) takes the ball to the line, he's got to have support inside and outside. Put it this way. The players who took part in our other matches were there in support, whether it was him or Ricky Stuart at half-back, but at Wembley they weren't'

Although Fulton is giving away little yet about possible team changes, the forwards in tomorrow night's match against Sheffield Eagles have a splendid opportunity to show that they can do better.

Although old habits sometimes die hard, Fulton has laboured manfully to eliminate tediously routine criticism of referees from his repertoire.

However, some of his players felt that Great Britain had been allowed to encroach offside in wide positions, and he has not been in a rush to dissociate himself from that view.

There is a superb irony at work here. The Australians have been able to move the ball better under the jurisdiction of the British referees - about whom they are, sometimes justifiably, so sniffy - than they were under the control of one of their own, the Sydney referee, Graham Annesley, who was in charge at Wembley.

'Let's just say it wasn't a typical Winfield Cup refereeing performance,' Fulton said. It is a fair bet that he will be talking to Annesley about rule interpretations before the Old Trafford Test on 5 November, something he considered unnecessary before Wembley.

It is not correct to say that Australia have, as Fulton confided immediately after the match, 'no excuses', they do have some. They believe that they suffered more from the loss of Bradley Clyde than Britain did from the absence of his assailant, Shaun Edwards.

But unlike 1990, when they also lost the first Test at Wembley, they have no complaints about their preparation or accommodation, nor about the fundamental competence of the referee. Just like that tour, however, and like the series against New Zealand since then, Australia now face the need to regroup and salvage a series.

It is something they have become used to - almost specialists in. 'Every series I've captained Australia in,' Mal Meninga said, 'seems to have gone to a decider in the third Test. It's not dull.'

Fulton would agree with that assessment. 'Always a bit of drama,' he said, and, to be fair, it is the sort of drama he has predicted. 'One day we are going to lose a series, I've said that all along. You don't want it to happen, but it will and it could even be when I'm involved.'

And that, rather than at 1-0 down in a best of three, is when we will find whether a side who have had so much of the smooth can cope with the rough.

AUSTRALIA (v Sheffield, tomorrow): Mullins (Canberra); Brasher (Balmain), McGregor (Illawarra), Hill (Manly), Wishart (Illawarra); Walters (Brisbane), Stuart (Canberra); Pay (Canterbury), Walters (Canberra), Lazarus (Brisbane), Fairleigh (Norths), Menzies (Manly), Smith (Canterbury). Substitutes: Ettingshausen (Cronulla), Florimo (Norths), Furner (Canberra), Harragon (Newcastle).

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