New Zealand 17 Great Britain 12
If there ever were any doubts that sport can be a cruel way to earn a living, they would have been dispelled by the look on the face of Adrian Morley
The 19-year-old Leeds forward knows better than anyone that it was his absence in the sin-bin in the last 10 minutes of a thrilling first Test here yesterday that lost the match.
Morley had only been on the field for five minutes as a substitute brought on to supply a fresh pair of legs when the Australian referee, Bill Harrigan, spotted him holding down Sean Hoppe in a tackle.
Harrigan had shown considerable patience towards similar transgressions from both sides, but this time he told Morley to spend the last 10 minutes elsewhere.
At that stage Great Britain were deservedly leading 12-4, having taken their chances and defended heroically.
"But you can't win Test matches a man short, especially in those final minutes," said a bitterly disappointed British coach, Phil Larder.
"If we'd had 13 men out there, we would have stopped them scoring one try, let alone two. It made all the difference."
Morley himself was a disconsolate figure. "I'm devastated," he said. "This was the worst moment of my life. I couldn't believe he was sin-binning me, because I thought it was no worse than any other offence all game.
"I came straight off the pitch because I was so upset and I only knew what had happened from the roars."
Those roars, from the New Zealanders in a disappointing 9,000 crowd, were ones of relief and they started to gather volume almost as soon as Morley had disappeared down the tunnel.
The British defence, already forced into a reshuffle by the departure of the concussed Stuart Spruce, survived only a minute before it was breached for the first time in the match, John Timu taking Gene Ngamu's pass, cutting back inside Bobbie Goulding's tackle and dissecting Kieron Cunningham and Chris Joynt on his way to the line. Kris Radlinski, moved back to cover for Spruce's absence and already responsible for one magnificent try-saving tackle, could do nothing this time, and Matthew Ridge's conversion put New Zealand just two points in arrears.
Britain had little time to regroup before Ruben Wiki's run forced them back once more. Ridge was stopped on the line, but Tony Iro and Grant Young kept the ball alive and Ngamu's pass again found Timu.
The former All Black once more had work to do to get to the line, but he found a route between Cunningham and Alan Hunte and the game was snatched away, Ridge's conversion and last minute drop goal to equal New Zealand's points-scoring record merely rubbing in the harsh reality.
It was a bitter ending that Great Britain did not deserve. Unrated in New Zealand as they went into this game, they did everything right for 70 minutes and showed that there is the ability in the squad to win this Test series.
They had to soak up a fierce Kiwi opening assault and they did so superbly, limiting them to just a Ridge penalty. Although Larder was reluctant to single out individuals, the efforts of Denis Betts, playing on his home ground, and Paul Broadbent always stood out as something exceptional.
It was a while before the tourists could find their attacking thrust, but when they did so the reward was virtually immediate.
Daryl Powell was stopped on the line by a crunching tackle from Steve Kearney and might have conceded a penalty for his reaction, instead, Harrigan allowed play to go on and Goulding's cross kick, productive abroad as well as at home, flew perfectly for Hunte to rise above Richard Barnett's and score.
An encouraging position became even better when Joynt managed to get a pass away as he fell, and Goulding and Radlinski moved the ball to Betts.
The former Wigan second-row has had his critics in , so there was perhaps an extra determination in the way he spun through two tackles to touch down and give Great Britain an eight-point lead at half-time.
When Young was penalised for a tackle on Broadbent seven minutes after the break, that eight became 10 - a lead that was protected by admirable defensive work from Hunte and Powell after Barnett had broken away.
Radlinski held down Timu to concede two points but more than made up for that with his tackle on Ridge.
Great Britain deserved to hang on and it is hard to argue against their contention that they would have done if not for Morley's misfortune.
It says much for the spirit in this squad, however, that to a man his team-mates had words of support and consolation for the distraught young player.
It is just a fact of sporting life that for the next few days those words will not seem to be worth very much.
New Zealand: Tries Timu 2; Goals Ridge 4; Drop goals Ridge. Great Britain: Tries Betts, Hunte; Goals Goulding 2.
NEW ZEALAND: Ridge (Manly, capt); Hoppe (), Blackmore (), Timu (Canterbury), Barnett (Cronulla); Ngamu (), Jones (); Young (South Queensland), Eru (), Pongia (Canberra), Iro (Sydney City), Kearney (), Smith (South Sydney). Substitutes: Ellis (), Vagana (), Wiki (Canberra), Swann ().
GREAT BRITAIN: Spruce (Bradford); Hunte (St Helens), Radlinski (Wigan), Powell (Keighley), Sullivan (St Helens); Harris (Warrington), Goulding (St Helens); Broadbent (Sheffield), Cunningham (St Helens), O'Connor (Wigan), Betts (), Sculthorpe (Warrington), Farrell (Wigan, capt). Substitutes: Joynt (St Helens), Senior (Sheffield), Morley (Leeds).
Referee: B Harrigan (Australia).Reuse content