Rugby League: Time to capitalise on the game's strengths

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The Independent Online
It is disappointing to have lost yet another series to Australia, but we should not look at the deciding game at Elland Road in isolation. For 10 years Great Britain teams have been capable of competing at this level on occasion. But what we don't have to do is play at that level week after week.

Players like Andy Farrell are as good as any in the world. Simon Haughton showed what a prospect he is and Kris Radlinski's defence was brilliant.

But they suffer from what I found when I played at Wigan. We could play St Helens one week and the intensity of that was as great as in any match anywhere. After that, however, you could have three relatively easy matches, which only serve to develop bad habits in players.

We still produce the quality of players, but not the quantity - and this is something to do with the quality of coaching, not just at first-team level but right down to the under-10s.

And we should not rely too much on the excuse that, compared with Australia, we are drawing on a relatively small population for our players. There are organisations which overcome that problem. A football team such as Ajax, for instance, has a relatively small catchment area, but, because it has the right coaching structures, the Dutch club has one of the best production lines in the game.

Australia do have an advantage, because even the people coaching small children have a good grounding in the game. It is part of their culture; they hear Peter Sterling on television every week, explaining the technicalities. In Britain, we rely on willing volunteers, of whatever standard or level of knowledge.

One way to increase our player pool is to try to attract those who have not made it in other sports. They might have failed as footballers, runners, boxers or whatever, but they have good habits and a certain level of athleticism.

If they have that, they can learn the skills of the game in a couple of years; I believe this is an area where we should make a real push. A player like Gorden Tallis, say, is first and foremost an outstanding athlete, who has acquired enough technical ability to be effective.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Rugby league has many strengths in this country. The players and the fans still have a rapport with each other which has long since been lost in other sports. That is something that has to be maintained and nurtured.

Also, the training and conditioning that rugby league players experience is streets ahead of what goes on at Premiership football clubs.

So it is not a case of us doing everything wrong. It is more a matter, as we saw again at Elland Road, of the Australians still doing it that bit better.

Phil Clarke is a former captain of Great Britain

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