Rugby League: Larder's test for Lions

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The Independent Online
The Great Britain coach, Phil Larder, would swear on a stack of Bibles that Test places are on offer in return for outstanding performances tomorrow night in Wellington. The question, as always at this stage of a tour, is weather his players believe him.

In theory, the tourists' poor display in Auckland last Thursday should give the team that plays in Wellington, in the last outing before Friday's first Test, every incentive.

The timing is particularly crucial for Chris Joynt, the St Helens second rower who came on tour as a first-choice Test forward, but suffered a recurrence of a knee injury after running on the hard grounds in Papua New Guinea.

"I tried to do too much, too soon after my operation," Joynt said. "But it feels fine now on the softer grounds in New Zealand. This is a very important match for me, because it is my only chance to play myself back into the Test team."

Larder will admit to watching Joynt's progress with particular interest, although he says: "They all have the opportunity to play themselves into the Test side. I don't want to rule anyone out of contention."

The Wellington game also marks a return for two players who have not been in action since the PNG leg of the tour: Jon Roper, who is over his knee injury, and Rowland Phillips, who could not play in Fiji after having a cyst removed from his face.

Phillips played in the first Test of the tour in PNG and must have a chance of forcing his way back into the reckoning, but there are those in tomorrow's team who cannot visualise themselves playing in a Test even if they were to walk on water in Wellington.

The Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott, will be looking at the New Zealand XIII that plays there tomorrow for one or two replacements for his Test side.

With the loose forward, Mark Horo, injured, Endacott will choose a back- row forward from this game to step up, possibly Tony Tatupu, who is set to become the subject of a tug of war between Warrington and the Auckland Warriors.

The Auckland winger and former All Black, Marc Ellis, is another who could be ruled out, which could create a further opportunity for a member of the side the Lions will face at Lower Hutt.

The side is largely based on the Auckland Warriors' successful reserve- grade team, all of whom are well known to the Lions' vice-captain and New Zealand resident, Denis Betts. "It is a lot stronger than Thursday night's team and full of very good players," Betts warned.

The last thing Great Britain need is another disappointing result, but this one of the trickier fixtures of the tour. Even before it, the Papua New Guinea coach, Bob Bennett, whose side have played both Great Britain and New Zealand over the last couple of weeks, is tipping the Kiwis for a 3-0 series win.

"When you've been 64-0 you tend to regard the team that's done that to you as a pretty good one," Larder said. "But it's all just paper talk and nothing that the players or I will take seriously."

GREAT BRITAIN (v New Zealand XIII, Wellington, tomorrow): Prescott; Hayes, Mather, Senior, Critchley; Tollett, Smith; Harmon, Lowes, O'Connor, Joynt, Bradbury, Hammond. Substitutes: Roper, Cassidy, Dwyer, Phillips.

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