Rugby League: Smith's salvage mission

Battered Britain rescue some pride at the last but Kiwis remain unbeaten in three-match series
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The Independent Online
Great Britain 23

New Zealand 23

TONY SMITH salvaged some pride for Great Britain with the late try and even later drop goal - the first of his career - that snatched an unlikely draw from the final Test last night. Great Britain, already beaten in the series, seemed out of contention two minutes from time, but the Wigan scrum-half latched on to an inside pass from Francis Cummins and scooted over to leave the captain, Andy Farrell, with an easy conversion to bring his side within one point.

The revitalised home side regained the ball from the kick-off and Farrell had one drop-kick charged down before Smith lined up the goal that averted a first series whitewash by New Zealand in this country. "I could see the clock and there was no other option but to go for the draw," Smith said. "We showed that there is some steel in this Great Britain team and with more time together we can only improve."

Ahead at half-time by the same eight-point margin as at Bolton, Britain fell away again in the second half to trail by 12 with 15 minutes to play. It was then that another of the successes of the evening, Sean Long, played a vital part in the revival. He had been lively at stand-off all night, even when his side were struggling, and he got his reward with a wriggling run for a morale-boosting solo try. Even then, a drop goal from the outstanding Stacey Jones seemed to rule out any need for panic until Smith intervened.

The home side more than held their own during a scrappy first half. The only try of those 40 minutes - or 47 including time added on - came from Jason Robinson, who matched his achievement of scoring tries in all three Tests against Australia last year. Smith's kick rebounded from Gary Connolly's arm and head, but he did not stand around for the inquest and beat Logan Swann to the loose ball.

It was a half of many penalties and one almighty blow-up, triggered when the Kiwis' giant prop, Joe Vagana, was lifted and dumped on his head. Virtually all the players became involved in the subsequent brawl, with Britain's Paul Sculthorpe going to the sin-bin for his role in the spear tackle and Jarrod McCracken joining him for his part in the retribution. Great Britain were then reduced to 11 men when Keith Senior was also given 10 minutes out of the action for the lying-on offence that finally snapped the patience of the referee, Bill Harrigan.

After the break, the Kiwis whittled down the lead, Kevin Iro leading the charge and Robbie Paul moving the ball via Sean Hoppe for his brother Henry, to score in the corner.

That began a phase of the match during which the New Zealanders looked on a different plane. Two goals from Daryl Halligan brought them level and a lovely pass from Jones, rightly recognised as the man of the series, released Robbie Paul for the try that took them ahead.

When some dazzling handling, notably from McCracken and Jones produced a second try for the same player, New Zealand looked safe. Their coach, Frank Endacott, was philosophical about their failure to take home a perfect record. "I thought it was a great Test match. I'm disappointed we didn't get 3-0, but if you'd told me before we left that we would get two wins and a draw I would have been turning cartwheels."

For the Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway, the result at least carried the suggestion that there is scope for considerable improvement, if he can work more frequently with the players in this squad. "Results haven't gone our way, but this is a three-year job," he said.

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

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

Referee: B Harrigan (Aus).