Rugby League: Reilly relies on old guard for decider

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The Independent Online
THE Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, has kept changes to the minimum for the match that will decide whether this summer's tour will be remembered as a success or as a disappointment.

The tour is balanced uncomfortably between those two outcomes and it is the second Test at Carlaw Park, here tomorrow, which will determine the side on which it falls.

'I will be very disappointed if we were to lose,' Reilly said. 'It would spoil a very good tour and tremendous series in Australia, where we went so close to winning.

'I've watched the video of the first Test against New Zealand again and all I could say was 'how the hell did we lose?' We have to go out and bust a gut this time to put that right.'

Characteristically, Reilly has valued stability and loyalty above the possible boost that a shake-up could give to the side. As expected, Karl Harrison replaces Kelvin Skerrett at open-side prop; Skerrett is unavailable in any case, the cold weather in New Zealand having triggered off his asthma.

Elsewhere, the players who lost their concentration and enthusiasm late in the first Test at Palmerston North are given another chance. 'They haven't become bad players overnight,' Reilly said.

There are, however, changes which could have been made which would both have recognised current form and given the team a more dangerous look. Deryck Fox and John Devereux have to be content with places on the bench, and Fox, who collected a dead-leg at Christchurch on Wednesday, is not even certain of that. Reilly rates his chances at 60-40 against, but he will be given until a few hours before the match to claim a place he has more than earned. Paul Newlove is his likely replacement if he is forced to drop out.

The conservative approach for this Test smacks of the series decider against Australia at Elland Road in 1990, where a refusal to make changes contributed to Britain's defeat.

Loyalty is an important component of Reilly's approach to his job, but sometimes it can become reminiscent of the comment that was made about the latter days of Alf Ramsey's management - that it was harder to get out of the England football team than into it.

The transformation tomorrow will have to be in the attitude of the players, and both Reilly and the newcomer Harrison claimed to detect more urgency and determination in the preparations.

The pack, in which both Denis Betts and Billy McGinty have overcome injury scares, will have to work harder for the full 80 minutes and Garry Schofield and Shaun Edwards will need to open up play with more fluency than they could achieve in Palmerston.

New Zealand cleared up their lingering injury problems yesterday, when both Kevin Iro and Tea Ropati were able to train. The only absentee was Matthew Ridge, who is expected to recover from a bout of flu.

A big, partisan crowd at a ground that makes up in atmosphere what it lacks in facilities will give the match a real Test feel. That is something which has often been lacking in New Zealand in the past and which will remind the Lions how much is riding on the result.

NEW ZEALAND: Ridge (Manly); Hoppe (Canberra), Iro (Manly), Kemp (Newcastle), Blackmore (Castleford); Clark (Auckland), Freeman (Eastern Suburbs, capt); Stuart (Canterbury, New Zealand), Mann (Warrington), Todd (Gold Coast), Hill (Canterbury, Australia), Pongia (Canterbury, New Zealand), Tuuta (Featherstone). Substitutes: Halligan (North Sydney), Kuiti (Wellington), Ropati (St Helens), Woods (Wellington).

GREAT BRITAIN: Steadman (Castleford); Eastwood (Hull), Powell (Sheffield), Connolly (St Helens), Offiah (Wigan); Schofield (capt, Leeds, capt), Edwards (Wigan); Harrison (Halifax), L Jackson (Hull), Platt, Betts, McGinty, Clarke (all Wigan). Substitutes: Fox (Featherstone), M Jackson (Wakefield), Devereux (Widnes), Fairbank (Bradford).

Referee: B Harrigan (Sydney).

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