New Zealand. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
IN THE end it was far simpler than anyone had dared to expect. Great Britain, keeping the pressure on the Kiwis almost throughout the game, and forcing them into the kinds of error which will have brought a blush to weather-beaten cheeks in Auckland and Canterbury, defeated them comfortably, and kept the visitors pointless.
All three British tries came from the pursuit of tactical kicks, to which their opponents seemed curiously vulnerable, and there was little free-flowing handling. That was a disappointment. But all the same, this was a game played at a furious pace, and with great intensity, and deserved better than a a half-full arena where the conditions, with the sun dividing the field into light and shadow, were as pleasant for watching as for playing.
The gate of 36,131 may have been the best between these countries for 40 years, but it showed that the south-east still finds rugby league highly resistible. In South Wales they must wish that their international players felt the same.
Shaun Edwards, the Wigan scrum-half, was very fairly judged Man of the Match for his generalship in the middle of the action, and for ensuring that the defence never flagged. But the young Jason Robinson must also have come into the reckoning for two eager, opportunist tries on his debut, and so too the Welshman Jonathan Davies, who once again showed how fluently he has adapted to the customs and practices of league, without ever losing that freewheeling, freethinking cheek of his. Apart from organising the rearguard, laying any ghost of suspicion that he lacks the necessary grit in defence, and occasionally thrusting into the attack, he put in the kick which dropped in the path of his old mucker, John Devereux, for the final try.
In picking their side for this test, the Kiwis' management had to answer a question never put to the All Blacks, who move around in a pack from first to last, as though living up to the wayside pulpit text that the family which prays together, stays together. It was whether to stick by and large with the members of the party they had brought from home (which, as it happens, is Australia in most cases, since the game is richer there) or to reinforce them heavily with an ad hoc collection of New Zealanders on weekend leave from their English clubs. This might have afforded a wider range of talent but would certainly have done little for the morale of the touring party.
What swung the decision in the tourists' favour was their 25- 18 win over Wigan last Sunday, after a great collective revival in the final half-hour. When the Test team was announced next day, it included only three exiles: the two centres, Kevin Iro (Leeds) and Dave Watson (Bradford), and at loose-forward Tawera Nikau (Castleford).
But as it turned out, collective endeavour never looked like being enough to overcome a British side which, as the match progressed, began to give full rein to their natural flair, and in the end were so convinced that they had the beating of their opponents that they eased off in their efforts, letting New Zealand run themselves ragged.
The Kiwis went hard from the haka, and though never breaking the British cover, were the first to come close to scoring when Halligan put a deep penalty wide. But the British provided the brighter individual moments - a clean but unfinished break on the left by Gary Connolly, a thrilling chase by Davies in pursuit of the captain Garry Schofield's long kick ahead, and in the 18th minute the first of a pair of rapacious tries from the lithe 19-year-old Robinson, winning his first senior international cap on the right wing. Another diagonal kick, this time from Shaun Edwards, sent Robinson up the flank, and as Hoppe failed to gather the ball, Robinson flung himself on the ball to score.
Then as the New Zealanders frequently spilled the ball in their anxiety to get control of the game, Britain got on top. After a bursting run by Devereux, the ball passed to Connolly, who kicked ahead, and driven by pure zest for success and by only an inch or so, Robinson gained the touchdown from the hapless Hoppe.
Davies failed first sumptuously, then narrowly, to convert these tries, but at his third attempt at goal, after he had himself been impeded by Freeman as he played the ball, he gave Britain the 10-point lead which they took into the dressing room at half-time.
Any hopes that the Kiwis might turn the game around in the second half as they had at Wigan was doused 13 minutes into the half when Davies joined up with the tactical kickers and hoisted the ball just behind the posts, inviting panic in the New Zealand defence, and his fellow Welshman, Devereux, pounced on the ball just before it ran over the dead-ball line. Davies converted, and midway through the half brought the scoring to an end with, for him, the child's play of a dropped goal from the same position.
At the finish there was a burst of 'Rule Britannia' over the loudspeakers, which, in its jingoistic way, pretty fairly summed up the afternoon's events.
Denis Betts fractured his cheekbone and will be out of the rest of the series.
GREAT BRITAIN:J Davies (Warrington); J Robinson (Wigan), P Newlove (Bradford N), G Connolly (Wigan), J Devereux (Widnes); G Schofield (Leeds, capt), S Edwards (Wigan); K Harrison (Halifax), M Dermott (Wigan), K Fairbank (Bradford N), D Betts (Wigan), C Joynt (St Helens), P Clarke (Wigan). Substitutes: S Nickle (St Helens), for Fairbanks 53 min; R Eyres (Leeds) for Joynt 63 min; D Powell (Sheffield Eagles) for Newlove 68 min; A Tait (Leeds) for Devereux 77 min.
NEW ZEALAND: M Edwards (Balmain, Aus); D Halligan (North Sydney, Aus), K Iro (Leeds), D Watson (Bradford N), S Hoppe (Canberra, Aus); G Ngamu (Manly- Warringah, Aus), G Freeman (Penrith, Aus, capt); J Lomax (Canberra, Aus), D Mann (Auckland, NZ), B Stuart (Canterbury, NZ), S Kearney (Western Suburbs, Aus), Q Pongia (Canberra, Aus), T Nikau (Castleford). Substitutes: J Lowrie (E Suburbs) for Lomax 59 min; J Williams (Canterbury) for Edwards 62 min; J Mackie (Northland) for Nikau 70 min; W Taewa (Canterbury) for Halligan 77 min.
Referee: G McCallum (Aus).
Scores: Robinson (try, 18 min, 4-0); Robinson (try, 28 min, 8-0); Davies (pen, 36 min, 10-0); Devereux / Davies (try / goal, 53 min, 16-0); Davies (drop goal, 61 min, 17-0).
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