Rugby League: Long locates right attitude at last for Britain

Great Britain 23 New Zealand 23
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The Independent Online
FAR TOO late to save the series, Great Britain found the cool nerve under pressure to rescue a lurching brute of a third Test at Watford on Saturday. Those lurches set the game up for another Kiwi canter to complete a whitewash, only for an improbable series of events to bring Britain a share of the spoils.

With 15 minutes to play, it was a case of for Bolton, read Watford, as the Kiwis took control with rugby so incisive and irrepressible that it seemed purely a matter of how many they would score before they inflicted enough misery on their hosts. But then along came Long; Sean of that ilk, a free spirit who had fitfully hinted at disorientating New Zealand with pace and unpredictability.

He had followed the precious game plan for the first hour until it became clear that it was leading nowhere. With nothing else left in the locker, he took on the Kiwi defence himself and scored the solo try that lifted spirits and suggested new possibilities.

"Fantastic," said his coach, Andy Goodway. "That's what he was there for. He's done everything we asked of him, even if he has us tearing our hair out at times, and there are a few more things we can show him over the next couple of years."

Long was the third half-back partner of the series for Tony Smith, something that makes it all the more remarkable that the Wigan scrum-half should have emerged with such credit at the end of the three matches, even viewed alongside Stacey Jones, arguably the world's best.

After Jones's dropped goal had stretched New Zealand's lead to a match- winning seven points, Smith changed all the calculations by backing up Francis Cummins' break, taking the inside path and going over for the try which, with Andy Farrell's conversion, put them one point behind.

It still seemed too little, far too late, but what better time to produce the first drop-goal of your career. "When the ball went back to him," said Farrell, who already had an effort charged down, "we thought, `oh, no, anyone but him'."

However, Smith, with the clock showing three seconds left, looked like he had been chipping them over for the single point all his life.

Great Britain celebrated as though they had won a series against Australia. Now is the time to take stock of whether there is much to celebrate at all. Although the British camp was able to argue afterwards that a controversial try on half-time in the first Test had effectively cost them the series, there was rather more to it than that. There were times, like the whole of the second half at Bolton and most of it at Watford, when they were outplayed to an embarrassing extent.

"I think we've shown glimpses throughout the series that we can develop into a pretty good team," Goodway said. Glimpses, however, are not enough; not when they are set alongside the lapses that undermine their efforts. Goodway says that will only change when he has more time with the squad. But they will not be together again for competitive purposes until they play Australia and New Zealand down under almost a year from now.

Looking that far ahead, there are some bonuses for Goodway. The emergence of Long, while begging the question of why he was not used as a substitute earlier in the series, gives him some valuable options at half-back.

The bright spot in the forwards was the solid work of the 20-year-old Terry Newton in his first Test; so much so that Goodway rated his leaving the field exhausted and returning refreshed as two of the turning points of the game. Newton's future may well be as a utility forward rather than as a specialist hooker, but he did enough to pencil his name into future plans.

This has not been an encouraging series elsewhere in the pack. Losing Adrian Morley for all three Tests was a blow and Farrell, struggling throughout with an unpublicised groin injury, was never at his best.

Fully fit, both of players would earn a place in the Kiwi pack. Nobody else would, which says something about the current standing of British forwards in world terms.

GREAT BRITAIN: Radlinski; Robinson, Connolly (all Wigan), Senior (Sheffield), Cummins (Leeds); Long (St Helens), T Smith; O'Connor (both Wigan), Newton (Leeds), Laughton (Sheffield), Joynt, Sculthorpe (both St Helens), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Fleary (Leeds), Forshaw (Bradford), Haughton, Gilmour (both Wigan).

NEW ZEALAND: Barnett (Sydney City); Hoppe, Iro (both Auckland), Wiki (Canberra), Halligan (Canterbury); R Paul (Bradford), Jones; Vagana, Eru, Pongia, Kearney (all Auckland), McCracken (Parramatta), Swann (Auckland). Substitutes: H Paul (Wigan), Cayless (Parramatta), Puletua (Penrith), C Smith (Illawarra).

Referee: B Harrigan (Australia).