Rugby League: The caretaker ready for a limited run: Andy Platt will lead Britain against France tonight. Dave Hadfield reports on a forward's progress

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The Independent Online
TWO Platts have been accustoming themselves to captaining national sides this week. One may have the job for a while; the other is expected to keep it only for one match. But Andy Platt, who leads Great Britain against France at Headingley, does not necessarily accept that his tenure is bound to be so brief.

The Wigan forward finds himself skipper tonight by accident - if the clash of temperaments that has led to Garry Schofield being suspended by Leeds can be termed accidental.

Even with Schofield ruled out, there were plenty of other candidates. Jonathan Davies, Shaun Edwards and Ellery Hanley have all captained Great Britain; Phil Clarke will certainly do so one day. Nevertheless, Malcolm Reilly's selection of Platt as captain for this match ranks as one of the shrewder moves of his six years as Great Britain coach. Team-mates would be entitled to diverse opinions on the suitability of the others, as people or as players; none can seriously argue against Platt's worthiness.

Part of that depends on his status as a player. 'He has turned himself from a better than average back-rower into the best No 10 in the world,' Reilly said. 'He sets an example by always going forward and yet his mistake rate is extremely low. He also hits very hard in the tackle.

'Andy is very well respected by all the players. He was vice-captain in New Zealand last year, so this is a natural progression, but, yes, I do see him as a caretaker in the role.'

'I don't know about that,' Platt said. 'I'll just do the job as well as I can and we'll see what Malcolm thinks about it when the next international squad is named. Although this is a team game, I do regard the captaincy as an individual honour. There's a bit more responsibility, but I will be trying to be the same as I've always been on the pitch.'

Nobody will complain about that, because Platt has a record of consistency that earns him the title, conferred on him by various polls, of the world's best prop. With his 25th cap tonight, he moves within range of the record number of Test appearances by a British forward, the 30 collected during the 1960s and early 1970s by Cliff Watson. At 28, few would bet against Platt establishing a new mark.

Although he is most coaches' idea of the perfect professional, Platt has not always been a meek one. He left his first club, St Helens, for Wigan amid a good deal of bitterness in 1988. It might only be a few miles, but, as Platt said on his return to Knowsley Road for his first training session as Britain's captain: 'To listen to them here, it was just the same as David Platt (of Juventus and England) going off to Italy for the money.'

At the start of this season, it seemed that Andy - like his namesake - might be lost to the domestic scene. It was a signal of his international standing that Australian clubs, usually so dismissive of British forwards, were dangling bait in front of him.

Platt has a lively sense of the importance of forward power and a perfectly sound theory that, by comparison with the more glamorous work in the backs, it tends to go under-rewarded. He told Wigan that he wanted something more like a back's wage packet if he was to stay and, after a couple of early-season displays in which he was obviously missed, they yielded.

Platt signed a new two-year contract, but has not ruled out the possibility of moving to Australia when it expires at the end of the next season. In the meantime, he will continue to be the cornerstone upon which the structure of Wigan and Great Britain's rugby is built.

It will be hard for him to do anything tonight to prove that his natural role of leading by example should continue to be embellished by the captaincy. If Britain win by a landslide, it will be because they have superior players in every position. Should they fail to do so, it will raise the question of whether they might have done better under a more experienced captain; Platt's games as skipper at any level of rugby can be counted on one hand.

'We can't win,' he said. 'If we score 50 points, that's what is expected of us. If we don't, there will be a sense of disappointment.

'But individual players have a chance to shine. The next Great Britain match is the first Test against New Zealand at Wembley in October, which will be a huge occasion, and players have their chance to stake their claim in advance. Malcolm is a very loyal person and, if someone does a good job for him, he tends to stick with them.'

Unlike tonight's substitute, Mike Ford, who played schoolboy football at Oldham with the Platt now leading England, the Platt of Wigan has never met his illustrious namesake. Unlike David, Andy faces an uphill struggle to be more than a one-match Captain Marvel.

In his development from an under-weight second-rower into the strong man and natural leader of the British pack, however, uphill struggles are what Andy Platt has relished. If form, fitness and fortune give him a longer run in the armband, he will never look out of place wearing it.

(Photograph omitted)

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