GREAT BRITAIN'S latest tilt at the Ashes here yesterday ended in the same way as all the others since 1970.
Finishing within one score of Australia could not disguise the fact that they were well beaten by a superior team on the occasion.
Just as they did in the third Test in 1990, Australia waited for the series decider to demonstrate their full power. They were fallible in both attack and defence in Melbourne last week; in the more familiar surroundings of Lang Park they dropped a few passes but they hardly missed a tackle.
That meant that it was five minutes from time before Great Britain got the break they needed, and it was far too late. The Australian captain, Mal Meninga, who became the record points-scorer in Ashes history in the match that made him Australia's most capped player, made his only mistake.
The ball that jolted out of his hands in a tackle dropped perfectly for Martin Offiah's toe and the winger's kick ahead bounced up for him to carry in for a try at his leisure.
If, instead of dropping on the ball between the posts, Offiah could have run through the packed terraces behind them and turned back the clock, Great Britain could have been in with a chance.
As it was, a six-point margin flattered them. The relieved Australian coach, Bob Fulton, could say in all sincerity: 'There is no gap between the countries now. We could play again tomorrow and the Poms could win.' But on the night, the gap was clear enough.
Throughout a first half which, had it not been an Ashes decider played in an electric atmosphere at one of the game's most atmospheric grounds, would have been condemned as an out and out bore, it was always Australia who looked threatening.
Their forwards were the ones making ground, thus giving Allan Langer and Laurie Daley room to work, which was denied Shaun Edwards and Garry Schofield. The other effect of Britain's failure to make progress was that their full-back, Graham Steadman, found himself kicking from deep in his own half with an inevitable loss of accuracy.
Within five minutes, Edwards was penalised for holding Willie Carne in a tackle and Meninga kicked the first of his four goals. Paul Eastwood equalised when Glenn Lazarus was punished for the same offence on Billy McGinty.
Daley's kick ahead brought the next points in what was becoming a feast for the connoisseur of penalty awards. Martin Dermott was whistled up for obstruction and Meninga again obliged. Bob Lindner and Paul Harragon preventing Kelvin Skerrett from playing the ball yielded the equaliser.
Skerrett's obstruction on Langer and a punch-up between Dermott and Steve Walters in which the British hooker was deemed the guilty party put Australia four points ahead by half- time, but that margin amounted to something of a let-off for a British side which had shown none of its Melbourne flair and penetration.
Australia got the try they had threatened early in the second half, even if there was a touch of luck about it. Daley's kick rebounded off the British defence for Andrew Ettingshausen and on the next tackle Brad Fittler managed to get his pass to Daley, whose power took him through the tackle and over the try line.
The game and the series were effectively won in the 54th minute and Daley, who endured such a nightmare in Melbourne, was again at the heart of the try. His kick towards the corner seemed to catch Offiah unawares and Meninga scored the points that put him ahead of Graeme Langlands' record with a clean pick-up and a surge that held off the joint tackle of Edwards and Denis Betts.
Meninga missed a second conversion, but Australia looked so confident that the best Britain could hope for was to limit the damage. A rampaging run by Bradley Clyde cut Great Britain apart again and only Harragon's knock-on saved a try which would have opened the floodgates.
You have to give credit, however, to Britain for their resilience, a commodity they possess in far greater abundance than at any time during their long quest for the Ashes.
Offiah's try created a brief illusion that they could snatch a draw. Edwards's kick saw Daley forced into touch and, from the scrum, Steadman's chip over the defence was cleaned up by Langer.
As the final hooter sounded, Dermott tried one last, desperate hoof downfield. As it sailed into touch, it took Great Britain's Ashes hopes with it for at least another two years.
There was one bright aspect. A six-point margin of defeat means that New Zealand must beat Papua New Guinea by 109 points in Auckland on Sunday to prevent a Great Britain-Australia World Cup final at Wembley in October.
As the 10,000 British fans, who produced an atmosphere which their side could not quite match, looked on the bright side of life and sang their new hit, 'Waltzing Meninga', into the night, that was something to hold on to.
AUSTRALIA: Ettingshausen (Cronulla); Carne (Brisbane), Fittler (Penrith), Meninga (Canberra, capt), Hancock (Brisbane); Daley (Canberra), Langer; Lazarus (both Brisbane), S Walters (Canberra), Harrigon (Newcastle), Sironen (Balmain), Lindner (Western Suburbs), Clyde (Canberra). Substitutes: Gillespie (Western Suburbs) for Sironen, 40; Johns (Brisbane) for Carne, 73; K Walters (Berisbane) for Ettingshausen, 73; Cartwright (Penrith) for Lindner, 73.
GREAT BRITAIN: Steadman (Castleford); Eastwood (Hull), Powell (Sheffield), Newlove (Featherstone), Offiah (Wigan); Schofield (Leeds, capt), Edwards; Skerrett, Dermott, Platt, Betts, McGinty, Clarke (all Wigan). Substitutes: Harrison (Halifax) for Skerrett, 50; Hulme (Widnes) for McGinty, 50; Connolly (St Helens) for Newlove, 62; Lydon (Wigan) for Schofield, 75.
Referee: D Hale (New Zealand).
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