Rugby League: Lions inspired by crafty Fox

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Auckland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

Great Britain. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

GREAT BRITAIN preserved their 100 per cent midweek record in trying circumstances at Carlaw Park yesterday to begin the New Zealand leg of the tour on a winning note.

Despite the victory Malcolm Reilly, the Great Britain coach, was moved to criticise a referee for the first time on the tour.

Some of the penalty awards made by Jim Stokes were baffling and Reilly said: 'I couldn't understand some of his decisions, but the result was that they had the ball for six minutes more than us in the second half. If I had been the Auckland coach and Auckland had won, I wouldn't have accepted it under those circumstances.'

However Reilly did admit that the Lions had compounded their problems with some fundamental errors under pressure and Deryck Fox, once more an inspiring captain of the second string side, agreed. 'We made a lot of mistakes in the second half - plus all the penalties - but our defence was superb,' he said.

That defensive determination was the key to Great Britain's first victory over traditionally redoubtable opponents since 1979 and only their second in the last seven attempts.

The work rate of the props, Karl Harrison and the newly-arrived Dean Sampson, was particularly impressive, as was Steve Hampson's handling a variety of kicks at full-back.

Britain dominated the early stages without putting any points on the board and the try that gave Auckland the lead presaged the Lions' problems with the referee.

He appeared to award a scrum feed the wrong way after a double knock on. When the former Bradford player, Neville Ramsay, broke from the base of the scrum, he found the British defence unprepared and was able put the Auckland full-back, Dave Mackintosh, over.

Britain's midweek men are not easily discouraged, however, and within three minutes Alan Hunte had replied with an individual effort. After running 40 metres before being pulled down, he made another 20 when he was not marked at the play-the-ball.

Mackintosh tackled the Lions' wing when he looked certain to score, but Hunte was back in position to take a scoring pass from Kevin Ellis after Fox, who emphasised his all-round value by kicking the goal from the touchline, had switched play.

Fox also created the second try, cross kicking at an acute angle for Ellis to win the race to the ball, but the eight-point lead established by his second conversion was whittled down by two penalties from Mackintosh.

Both sides were playing such constructive rugby despite the slippery conditions that a Fox penalty two minutes before half-time hardly seemed likely to be the last score, but Auckland's near monopoly of possession and Britain's tireless tackling kept it that way.

There were tricky moments, especially when the former New Zealand Test scrum-half, Clayton Friend, began to exert influence alongside Ramsay, and when Francis Leota, once with Sheffield and Salford, repeatedly threatened to break the line.

The last few minutes were particularly fraught, especially when David Myers, who had come on as a substitute, made a couple of handling errors, and Ellis and Fox, for once unaware of each other's intentions, collided under a kick.

But Great Britain held on, as they deserved to, and the relief throughout a party that is still getting over its disappointment from the third Test in Australia was palpable.

Auckland (8) 8, Great Britain (14) 14. Auckland: Tries D Mackintosh; Goals D Mackintosh 2. Great Britain: Tries Hunte, Ellis; Goals Fox 3.

AUCKLAND: Mackintosh (Tuisamoa, 65min); Patton, Elia, Ropati, Campbell; McIntosh (Kini, 58), Friend (capt); Afoa, Malan, Pickering (Lowrie, 61), Leota, Tatupu (Robards, 58), Ramsay.

GREAT BRITAIN: Hampson (Wigan); Hunte (St Helen's), Lydon (Wigan), Newlove (Featherstone), Hallas (Hull KR); Ellis (Warrington), Fox (Featherstone); Harrison (Halifax), Dermott (Wigan, Sampson (Castleford), M Jackson (Wakefield), Fairbank (Bradford), McNamara (Hull). Substitutes: Devereux (Widnes) for Lydon, 53; Myers (Wigan) for Hallas 71; Aston (Sheffield) for Dermott, 40; Betts (Wigan) for M Jackson 71.

Referee: J Stokes (Christchurch)