Rugby League: Pride of Lions transcends all

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The Independent Online
IF Great Britain are to win the Ashes for the first time in 22 years today, they must beat a run of bad luck which goes back even further.

The Lions have won just once at Lang Park, Brisbane, the scene of the deciding Test. That was in 1962, the first time Australia and Great Britain met at the ground, when a side including Billy Boston and Alex Murphy won 17-10 to clinch the series.

Although the ground now holds only a modest 31,500, it intimidates visiting sides. Australia, Queensland and the Brisbane Broncos all start with a significant psychological advantage over away teams. New Zealand had two wins here against the odds during the 1980s, but otherwise Lang Park has remained a formidable citadel.

The good news for Great Britain - apart from the fact that about a third of the spectators will be on their side - is that this level-headed party is no more likely to be intimidated than it is to be over-confident after its 33-10 victory in the second Test in Melbourne.

'It's just another football ground,' Phil Larder, Great Britain's assistant coach, said; a naive assessment, but one which reflects a businesslike approach to today's task.

Britain's coach, Malcolm Reilly, has insisted on a low-key approach this week. The players have been shielded from the glare of publicity and no one has said anything which smacks of over-confidence. Andy Platt has instructed his team-mates not to read the local newspapers and they seem to have obeyed.

Reports that Britain are on a bonus of pounds 10,000 a man to win the series have been denied by the tour manager, Maurice Lindsay. Whatever the figure involved - and they would no doubt be well rewarded - it will not be the key to their performance. The overwhelming impression of this squad is of a powerful sense of common purpose that transcends the question of rewards.

It has to be remembered, though, that Australia have a most powerful incentive to rescue the series. The first Ashes series defeat since 1970 would signal the end of several international careers and the captain, Mal Meninga, who today becomes Australia's most capped Test player, and the coach, Bob Fulton, would be likely to be among them. All the players would bear the stigma of losing the Ashes in a country which treats losers with little patience. They will need no extra motivation than that.

Australia have made less changes than some urged after their embarrassment at Melbourne. Laurie Daley at stand-off is due for a big game after playing so poorly in Melbourne and Willie Carne improves the threequarter line as Offiah's marker and a threat in his own right.

But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Andrew Ettingshausen retains his place at full-back by default, because there is no other convincing candidate.

The inclusion of Glenn Lazarus will not radically change the approach of an Australian pack which will still be based on hard, straight running. The wild card is John Cartwright, whose ball skills could introduce a rogue element if he is brought off the bench early enough.

Britain have stuck precisely to the successful formula from the second Test, resisting the temptation to tinker with their substitutes.

Both Garry Schofield and Phil Clarke have recovered from food poisoning and Kelvin Skerrett is clear after a flare-up of his ankle trouble. The value of that stability cannot be overrated and everything points to a close battle in which a repeat of the determined and largely mistake-free rugby they produced in Melbourne could be enough to keep Britain ahead of the Australian backlash.

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), Johns, K Walters (both Brisbane), Cartwright (Penrith).

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: Connolly (St Helens), Hulme (Widnes), Lydon (Wigan), Harrison (Halifax).

Referee: D Hale (New Zealand).

Great Britain will know on Sunday whether they have qualified to meet Australia in the World Cup final at Wembley in October. Only a heavy defeat in Brisbane today and a massive victory by New Zealand over Papua New Guinea two days later will prevent another meeting between the Ashes rivals.