New Zealand. . . . 0
IT MIGHT not have been the most exuberant, but the win over New Zealand at Wembley ranks as one of the most efficient Great Britain performances of recent years.
In fact, players who apologised afterwards for being 'a bit boring' did themselves less than justice. It was never a flamboyant victory, but it carried its own exhilaration, born of the pleasure in doing all the difficult things that the game requires so very, very well.
A team that looked less than wholly convincing on paper - although Malcolm Reilly would have been hard-pressed to pick a better one - did exactly what it needed to do. To a man, players raised their games and the result was a wholly convincing collective effort.
It was hard to find an individual who did not make an important contribution. Jason Robinson made one of the most stunning of Test debuts, twice beating the potential match-winner, Sean Hoppe, to score from kicks and shrugging off the pressures of the occasion with nerveless composure.
'He's a very confident young man,' Reilly said. 'But he has reason to be. He's perfectly equipped for the job.' And to hold that job for some time, I would guess.
On the other wing, John Devereux put his Wembley horrors behind him with a solid, near-faultless display capped with a try when the Kiwi full-back, Morvin Edwards, could not hold a high kick.
The man who put up that kick, Jonathan Davies, had a fine game himself, but was more interested in Devereux's achievement in exorcising his demons.
'Everyone makes mistakes and he was unfortunate that his two big blunders were at Wembley,' Davies said. 'But I was delighted for him today. His running out of defence was magnificent, his defence was great and I was thrilled to see him come up with the try.'
Shaun Edwards had one of his best games in a Great Britain shirt and Garry Schofield showed that he can still be a world-class player when he is clear in his mind about his role. He even appeared to have rediscovered a yard of pace.
Schofield said before the match that the forwards would decide it and remained true to that philosophy afterwards. He was right to highlight the quality of Martin Dermott's service from acting half and the no-frills hard work of the two Karls - Harrison and Fairbank. Their solid, mistake-free contribution was in marked contrast to so many on the opposing side.
Phil Clarke was back to his best and if Chris Joynt made a steady, rather than a spectacular first start in a Test, there is a lot more to come from him. Unfortunately, his second row partner, Denis Betts, will miss the rest of the series with a cracked cheekbone.
The next two Tests will undoubtedly see New Zealand perform far better than this; they could hardly play worse. They began the game by making basic handing errors and were never allowed to settle into a smoother pattern.
Their coach, Howie Tamati, went for a long soak in the bath to assess what he had just seen. He had certainly watched all his plans go down the plughole and only two players could be called successes.
Stephen Kearney stood apart from an otherwise toothless pack of forwards and the Kiwi captain, Gary Freeman, although less influential than Edwards, never had his sting drawn completely. When everything was falling apart around him, he still contrived moments of danger.
Two thrusts in the first half could have changed the course of the match and would certainly have saved the Kiwis from being 'nilled' by Great Briain for the first time since 1974. Clarke tackled him into touch the first time and a combination of Davies and Devereux the second. New Zealand had little else to offer.
The most disillusioning aspect was the lack of any impact from the three players drafted in from English clubs. Tawera Nikau achieved nothing at loose forward. Kevin Iro wandered through the game like a sleepwalker and his centre partner, Dave Watson, was muted and ineffectual, with the result that they were dominated from the start by the British pairing of Paul Newlove and Gary Connolly.
A number of changes suggest themselves. Watson could go to full-back, with Richie Blackmore coming into the centre, and there should be room in the pack for someone like Tiny Solomona and Brendon Tuuta.
That might take several baths to sort out. In the meantime, British rugby league can be reasonably happy with a crowd of 36,131, but happy without any reservations at all with the performance they saw.
GREAT BRITAIN: J Davies (Warrington); J Robinson (Wigan), P Newlove (Bradford N), G Connolly (Wigan), J Devereux (Widnes); G Schofield (Leeds, capt), S Edwards (Wigan); K Harrison (Halifax), M Dermott (Wigan), K Fairbank (Bradford N), D Betts (Wigan), C Joynt (St Helens), P Clarke (Wigan). Substitutes: S Nickle (St Helens), for Fairbank, 53; R Eyres (Leeds) for Joynt, 63; D Powell (Sheffield Eagles) for Newlove, 68; A Tait (Leeds) for Devereux, 77.
NEW ZEALAND: M Edwards (Balmain); D Halligan (North Sydney), K Iro (Leeds), D Watson (Bradford N), S Hoppe (Canberra); G Ngamu (Manly-Warringah), G Freeman (Penrith, capt); J Lomax (Canberra), D Mann (Auckland), B Stuart (Canterbury), S Kearney (Western Suburbs), Q Pongia (Canberra), T Nikau (Castleford). Substitutes: J Lowrie (Eastern Suburbs) for Lomax, 59; J Williams (Canterbury) for Edwards, 62; J Mackie (Northland) for Nikau, 70; W Taewa (Canterbury) for Halligan, 77.
Referee: G McCallum (Aus).Reuse content