Rugby Union: Britain mine a rich vein of valour: Walking wounded hold on

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The Independent Online
Great Britain 8 Australia 4 As if it isn't enough to beat Australia once every two years - it isn't, but that's a different story - Great Britain have the happy knack of making each victory memorable in a quite different way.

If the previous wins dotted through the last six years have been born out of tactical acumen or flashes of expansive brilliance, then this first John Smith's Test will be remembered as a triumph for guts and character.

To beat a side in such prime form as Australia, and to make them look so ordinary despite the loss of the Great Britain captain, was an immense effort. Comparisons with matches such as the Rorke's Drift Test in 1914 and the victory in Brisbane in 1958, in both of which matches Great Britain finished with 10 fit men, can be only partial, not least because the problems on Saturday were largely self-inflicted.

But the task was not much easier than in those legendary battles. Britain lost Daryl Powell with a dead-leg that could keep him out of the second Test in the 23rd minute, and played the rest of the match with a loose forward, Phil Clarke, at stand-off.

One of their substitutes, Allan Bateman, barely scraped through a fitness test on his hamstring an hour before the game.

The worst blow by far, though, was the loss of Shaun Edwards. There was no doubt that he had to go for a dreadful high tackle on Bradley Clyde, and his best defence to a charge that could keep him out of the rest of the series is that this was the first time he has been sent off in 400 matches, man and boy.

Edwards' disconsolate trudge back down the tunnel through which he had led Great Britain half an hour earlier will long live in the memory, most of all in his own.

Changed and wearing sunglasses like a man who hoped no one would recognise him, he was at least spared the knowledge that he had cost his team-mates the match.

'I felt I had let them down, but they were magnificent without me,' Edwards said. Great Britain managed to turn the potential disaster into an advantage. Apart from the fact that it led indirectly to the introduction of the effervescent Bobby Goulding, who showed conclusively that he should have been on from the start, Great Britain's defence used the absence of Edwards as a gee-up when they were under the heaviest pressure, shouting to each other: 'Let's do it for Giz.' Corny, but true.

It was Goulding's crackle and fizz that started the raid that led to Great Britain's try, just 12 minutes after Edwards' departure. It was finished by another obvious British hero, Jonathan Davies, taking Denis Betts' pass, throwing half a dummy to put Steve Renouf in two minds and taking off through the gap between him and Brad Fittler.

Not the least of the qualities that make Davies arguably the finest rugby union convert since the war is the way that his pace remains undiminished.

He also decided before this series to follow his instincts if he saw a gap.

Brett Mullins is a very quick full-back, but he had got himself out of position and Davies was able to dive in at the corner.

After performances like these it is invidious to pick out individuals, and the Great Britain coach, Ellery Hanley, whose confidence and self-belief had communicated itself so effectively to his troops, declined to do so.

But there were others whose contribution to keeping Australia out until the 71st minute far exceeded any reasonable expectations.

Alan Hunte defended capably in his occasional position of centre. Chris Joynt made no distinction between prop and second row and Lee Jackson had a splendid all-round game at hooker.

Then there was Clarke, finding himself suddenly cast as captain and stand-off after Edwards went and handling both jobs as though they were merely a natural progression.

There were wonderful tackles, particularly by Davies on Allan Langer, and by Gary Connolly and Martin Offiah, to haul Fittler back over the try line, but this was essentially a victory for the squad's collective spirit.

'It was the best defensive effort in international football that I've seen for 30 years,' said a gracious Australian coach, Bob Fulton.

It was not surprising that Fulton should choose to see it that way rather than as a case of Australia failing to perform. All the same, much of their work was predictable and pedestrian and they have some hard thinking to do before the second Test at Old Trafford on 5 November.

They are likely to be without Clyde, who went for a brain scan after collapsing in the tunnel at half-time, and Laurie Daley, who has torn a muscle in his thigh.

There must also be a temptation to go back to plan A by drafting in Ricky Stuart at scrum-half and to shuffle the pack by bringing in a different forward or two.

Even in their hour of jubilation, Great Britain knew that they will have problems to solve as well. Apart from Edwards' likely suspension, Davies damaged shoulder muscles through a partial dislocation midway through the second half, and is no more certain than Powell to be fit in time for Old Trafford.

If Wembley proved anything, though, it is that this is a squad capable of overcoming adversity just as they were capable of turning the country's general lack of expectations on Saturday into a positive advantage.

There might have been no individual act of heroism to match Alan Prescott's playing on with a broken arm in 1958, but as a collective effort of the will, this was a display that deserves to stand with those legendary backs-to-the-wall performances of the game's distant past.

Now Great Britain need to do what they failed to do when they took the lead at Wembley in the 1990 Ashes series - finish the job.

'We've not won it yet; we're only half-way there and they are going to come back at us twice as strong,' Clarke said. True, but the courage that has taken them that far deserves to be remembered whatever happens next.

Great Britain: Try Davies; Goals Davies, Goulding. Australia: Try Renouf.

GREAT BRITAIN: Davies (Warrington); Robinson, Connolly (both Wigan), Hunte (St Helens), Offiah (Wigan); Powell (Sheffield), Edwards (Wigan, capt); Harrison (Halifax), Jackson (Sheffield), Joynt (St Helens), Betts, Farrell, Clarke (all Wigan). Replacements: McDermott (Wigan) for Powell, 23; Goulding (St Helens) for Farrell, 31; Bateman (Warrington) for Davies, 58; Cassidy (Wigan) for Harrison, 61.

AUSTRALIA: Mullins (Canberra); Ettingshausen (Cronulla), Meninga (Canberra, capt), Renouf, Sailor (both Brisbane); Daley (Canberra), Langer (Brisbane); Roberts (Manly), Walters (Canberra), Harragon (Newcastle), Sironen (Balmain), Clyde (Canberra), Fittler (Penrith). Replacements: Furner (Canberra) for Clyde, 40; Pay (Canterbury) for Sironen, 52; Stuart (Canberra) for Daly, 56.

Referee: G Annesley (Australia).

(Photographs omitted) (Table omitted)

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