Rugby League: Kiwis thrill in the kill

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The Independent Online
Great Britain 16

New Zealand 36

A SECOND-HALF collapse by Great Britain handed New Zealand their first series win in this country since 1971 on a silver platter at Bolton last night. While it was a marvellous evening here for the Kiwis, the Great Britain captain, Andy Farrell, put it in context when he admitted that the 40 minutes which had given them their triumph were the worst he had experienced in his career.

Farrell and his team-mates slumped from 16-8 in front at half-time to be swamped before the final hooter. This is admittedly a strong and resourceful New Zealand side, but that is no excuse for the way that Great Britain lost their pattern and neglected their defensive duties after the break. "We did everything right in the first half and it totally went away from us in the second," the downcast Farrell said afterwards.

There were warning signs that it was going to do so in the first minute after the restart, when Daryl Halligan knocked on with the line at his mercy.

The Kiwis made their decisive move 10 minutes later. Although Kris Radlinski's tackle stopped Henry Paul on the line, the British defence failed to regroup quickly enough and the substitute forward, Tony Puletua, ploughed over from dummy half.

Great Britain immediately put themselves under further pressure when Farrell kicked into touch on the full. As New Zealand went for the kill, Stacey Jones, who was again outstanding at scrum-half, hoisted a high kick and, after three minutes' perusal of the video evidence, Richie Barnett was ruled to have come from on-side to catch and score. Even though Gary Connolly's wrestling throw denied Quentin Pongia a try, New Zealand were rampant. Ruben Wiki's tackle jolted the ball from Iestyn Harris's grasp and Sean Hoppe picked up the loose ball to go half the length of the field and become New Zealand's leading try- scorer.

Wiki then went through some weak tackling, notably from Keith Senior, for the Kiwis' fifth try. The man of the match, Barnett, made the long break for Henry Paul to complete the damage before the end, when the reliable Halligan duly added the sixth goal.

"It was certainly a surprise to me the way we turned it around by scoring 28 points to nil," the Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott, said. "We would have taken Australia apart with that second-half performance. We were eight points down at half time, but considering the amount of ball we had given away, we were reasonably happy. All our talk was about composure because we knew if we held on to some ball we would crack them."

What Endacott could not have expected was that the cracks, once they appeared, would spread so alarmingly through a British team who initially seemed to have stepped up their performance after losing at Huddersfield last week.

The first half had been a completely different game. Despite the absence of the injured Adrian Morley and Paul Newlove, Britain dominated possession and though they went behind to Barnett's first try, after a sweeping exchange of passes with Jones, they settled into a productive pattern.

It took a moment of individual brilliance from Jason Robinson to take them into the lead for the first time after 20 minutes. Taking a pass from Keiron Cunningham, he ran across the Kiwi defence, finding a gap through which he could burst unstoppably for a magnificent try.

An exchange of penalties kept Great Britain narrowly in the lead and they had two excellent try-scoring opportunities as half time approached, Jones clearing from Tony Smith's little kick-ahead and Connolly being denied his first Test try when he was held up over the line.

But, immediately before the break, they made what appeared to be the crucial breakthrough, Farrell throwing out a long pass, Smith picking up by his ankles and Harris going on an arcing run that summed up Britain's first-half optimism.

The ensuing 40 minutes left a very different mood, with the Third Test at Watford on Saturday now looming as an irrelevance. Great Britain have thus lost a record five Tests in succession to New Zealand and, on this showing, it is not easy to see an end to that depressing run.

GREAT BRITAIN: Radlinski (Wigan); Robinson (Wigan), Connolly (Wigan), Senior (Sheffield), Cummins (Leeds); Harris (Leeds), Smith (Wigan); Cowie (Wigan), Cunningham (St Helens), Laughton (Sheffield), Joynt (St Helens), Sculthorpe (St Helens), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes used: O'Connor (Wigan), Haughton (Wigan), Gilmour (Wigan), Howard (Bradford).

NEW ZEALAND: Barnett (Sydney City); Hoppe (Auckland), K.Iro (Auckland), Wiki (Canberra), Halligan (Canterbury); R.Paul (Bradford), Jones (Auckland); Vagana (Auckland), Eru (Auckland), Pongia (Auckland), Kearney (Auckland), McCracken (Parramatta), Swann (Auckland). Substitutes used: H Paul (Wigan), T Iro (Adelaide), Puletua (Penrith), Cayless (Parramatta).

Referee: B.Harrigan (Aus).