Rugby League: Lions ready for tougher tasks in NZ

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The Independent Online
Fiji 4 Great Britain 72

So far from home, so good but Great Britain know they face a jarring change of pace when they arrive in Auckland today. Apart from a brief pitched battle in Saturday's mis-match of a Test, life for the Lions in Fiji has been relaxed both on and off the field.

So laid back has the atmosphere been that a number of players have gone with the flow to the extend of wearing the sulu - the traditional Fijian male skirt.

That is a habit that might not translate well to the streets of Wigan or St Helens; nor will the easy going approach necessarily suffice when the tourists get down to serious business in New Zealand this week.

Saturday's Test, if it can be called that, was not good news for the global aspirations to which Super League attaches such importance. The Fijians were dreadful, several notches down the scale from their performances in the World Cup last October, and no match for what is turning into a very well-drilled Great Britain side.

The Fijian preparations had been disputed by arguments over money and the subsequent walk-out of their captain, Noa Nadruku, and every one of their internal problems showed up in a display that lacked commitment as well as quality.

Having said that, Great Britain were formidable opponents for any side functioning below its best. Bobbie Goulding, playing an aggressive running game quite different from the organising role he adopted in Papua New Guinea, had another marvellous Test, one which will be recorded in the reference books for his haul of 32 points from three tries and 10 goals.

That beats a 24-year-old record established by John Holmes and is further evidence that Goulding now deserves to be regarded not just as Britain's No 1 scrum-half, but also as one of the very best in the world.

The other side of Goulding's ebullient personality is that he is an enormously annoying little man to play against. He sees it as his job to wind up the opposition, but he has rarely done that to more spectacular effect than in the case of a solid block of Fijian muscle named Malakai Yasa.

Goulding and Yasa go back a long way, to a league match at the Don Valley Stadium last winter when the Sheffield Eagles prop, a devout Christian and part-time social worker renowned for his equable temperament, vowed eternal vengeance.

Midway through the first half on Saturday, he tried to re-open hostilities after the referee, Jim Stokes, had broken up a mass brawl, by charging at Goulding with murder in his eyes.

The Great Britain scrum-half is used to taking on bigger men, but on this occasion he chose to demonstrate that his side-step remains in good order and thus avoided most of the impact. Yasa was still sent off and any hope of keeping the scoreline respectable went with him.

Yasa later came to Great Britain's hotel to apologise to Goulding - Fiji is that sort of place - while Goulding won the players' vote as man of the match, but only by one vote from Denis Betts, whose head to head clash with Lee Nalagilagi started the original battle.

There were other excellent performances from Andy Farrell, Iestyn Harris and, in his first Test, the Bradford prop Brian McDermott.

The squad, that set off for New Zealand today, is in fine form and fettle, with the possible exception of another Bradford forward, whose misfortunes so far on tour range from blisters and gastroenteritis to having his money stolen from the hotel safe.

He has inspired an epic poem, which begins:

"If you think your life is dire,

Spare a thought for Bernard Dwyer."

Spare a thought for all of them, as they leave paradise and start the hard work of the tour.

FIJI: Sovatabua (Sheffield); Baravilala (Nabua), Thompson (Penrith), Tamani (Bradford), Tulevu (Canterbury); Ratudina (Nadera), Naisoro (lautaka); Kubuwai (Canberra, capt), Kaidrokia (Nadera), Yasa (Sheffield), J Dakuitoga (Nadera), Sagaitu (Canberra), Nalagilagi (Penrith). Substitutes: V Dakuitoga (Nadera), Marayawa (Canberra), Vatubua (Nausori), Wainidroa (Canberra).

GREAT BRITAIN: Spruce (Bradford); Hunte (St Helens), Radlinski (Wigan), Powell (Keighley), Sullivan (St Helens); Harris (Warrington), Goulding (St Helens); Broadbent (Sheffield), Cunningham (St Helens), McDermott (Bradford), Betts (Aukland), Sculthorpe (Warrington), Farrell (Wigan, capt). Substitutes: Smith (Castleford), Senior (Sheffield), Molloy (Featherstone), Cassidy (Wigan).

Referee: J Stokes (New Zealand).