Rugby Union: Britain impress but do not overwhelm: Dave Hadfield on some encouraging play by Britain's rugby league team Down Under

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The Independent Online
GREAT BRITAIN'S tour of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand can be described as encouraging with some disappointing moments, rather than the other way around - as would have been the case had they lost in Auckland on Sunday.

Victory over New Zealand in the second Test averted the ignominy of series losses to both the major league-playing nations of the southern hemisphere on the same trip.

With the Kiwi series shared - or narrowly won if you wish to go into arcane matters like points aggregrates - the 1992 Lions' record is a creditable one.

To lose only four games out of 17 on an arduous two-month tour is an impressive if not an overwhelming statistic.

Of those four, two - the first Test in New Zealand and the match against Parramatta - should have been won. The first Australian Test in Sydney could have been won if early chances had been taken, and even the one match Great Britain never looked like winning - the Test against Australia in Brisbane - was finally lost by a mere six points.

The midweek side won every one of its games; a remarkable performance even if the chopping and changing of teams on previous tours makes it impossible to call it a unique one.

Only two years ago in New Zealand, Britain lost to Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington. On the last visit to Australia in 1988, they were not merely beaten but thrashed by a country team in Tamworth.

The itinerary this time gave them far tougher midweek games and they came through them confidently. That is all the more praiseworthy when you consider that, by the end of the tour, half the second-string side was made up of mid-tour replacements, who were not considered good enough for the original 32. The evidence is that British rugby league is finally developing some strength in depth.

The failures of the tour lay in omitting to turn pressure into points in the first Tests in both Australia and New Zealand. A try at the right time in both of those games would have seen the Lions flying home today with two series victories rather than one draw.

There was rarely anything wrong with the physical effort or the defensive organisation of the squad. Andy Platt, chosen by the management team as the man of the tour, set an inspiring example in those areas, and it was taken up by most around him.

The disappointment is that Britain could not make better use of equally able players whose strength lies in attacking - and especially in attacking from wide positions. Martin Offiah was the leading try-scorer with seven, but that was slim pickings for a winger of his ability.

There were outstanding successes in both the backs and the forwards. After Platt, Phil Clarke stood out in the pack, while Garry Schofield and Graham Steadman both had admirable tours marred by the occasional aberration, and Gary Connolly emerged as a real prospect in the centres.

Without doubt, the unluckiest player was Deryck Fox, who battled away gamely and skilfully as midweek captain and eventually received an overdue Test call-up for Auckland, only to drop out with a leg injury.

On the debit side of the ledger, the tour probably marks the end of some illustrious international careers, such as those of Ellery Hanley, Andy Gregory and Lee Crooks.

Despite some disappointing cash returns from what looked to be good crowds in New Zealand, the tour was a financial success, something that can hardly fail to reflect well on its manager, Maurice Lindsay.

Divining individual intentions when the Rugby League chief executive's job falls vacant at the end of the year is like chronicling the ups and downs of a Royal marriage; information comes from friends and supporters, rather than the principals themselves, but all the indications are that he wants the job and will get it.

He will also remain in situ as the Great Britain manager for one more match, the World Cup final against Australia at Wembley on 24 October.

Malcolm Reilly, who will continue as the Test coach until he or the League decide otherwise, will also be there, and so will many of the players who arrived back in England today. Any lingering sense of disappointment from the tour can be put to rest then.

BRITAIN'S TOUR RECORD: Played 17, won 13, lost 4; points for 333, points against 212.