Rugby Union: Can these supermen fall to earth?: Steve Simms, the Halifax rugby league coach, assesses the Australians and explains his game plan for today's visit by the tourists

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The Independent Online
TODAY it is my problem, next Saturday it is Ellery Hanley's: just how do you beat the Australians. In recent times, only Malcolm Reilly (the now-

departed Great Britain coach) has plotted the downfall of the Kangaroos, but even though he experienced victory in two Tests, it was not enough to secure the Ashes.

As a coach, the first objective is to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. The former is much the easier task given the talent of this present crop of tourists.

In assessing the men likely to face Britain at Wembley on Saturday, there is an obvious starting point - the full-back Brett Mullins, probably one of the quickest players in the squad. Some full-backs can run the ball only one way, from left to right for example. So your kicking game would be designed so he can't step off his left foot. But Mullins, with his searing pace, can run the ball from anywhere to good effect. And, at 6ft 3in tall, he can handle the high kick with ease.

With the kicking game so important in modern rugby league, the wings and centres have also to be taken into account, and a decision must be made about which side of the field to direct the kicks. On the right side, the Aussies have Michael Hancock and Steve Renouf. If Hancock receives the ball, the defence must be prepared for some powerful running, because not only is he fast and light on his feet for a big man, he may try to run through the top of the opposition. This aggression sometimes is his downfall, giving away penalties and losing possession.

Renouf is anexciting ball- player, always looking to glide through any hole in the defence. Renouf is definitely one player capable of running in a try from one end of the field to the other. They are no weaker on the left side, with Andrew Ettingshausen and Mal Meninga, two of the most experienced players in the team. On his day, Ettingshausen can make any defence look second- rate. He likes to run across, probing for any slight openings, and is good at linking up with the full-back, centre or his opposite wing.

Meninga, meanwhile, may not be the quickest outside back in the team but must be one of the toughest. He has the ability to stay upright in the tackle with two or three defenders around him and still offload the ball. The stand-off is Laurie Daley, one of the best to play this position. Daley has tremendous power, upper-body strength and change of pace, which enables him to break tackles, and he has marvellous distribution.

For the scrum-half position, there are two in contention: Ricky Stuart and Alan Langer. I think Bobby Fulton, the Aussie coach, may go for Stuart, but both are great players. Stuart has one of the best kicking games and he can pass long or short with accuracy.

In the pack, Brad Fittler, the loose forward, is an elusive player who can step off either foot, but is much better off his left. Fittler has a fine passing and kicking game, often putting in a chip kick over the top. He, too, has plenty of pace and is equally at home in the threequarters.

In the second row will probably be Brad Clyde and Paul Sironen, both strong men. Clyde usually likes to run out wide, using his pace, strength and a good left-arm fend to break tackles. He also has a high workrate in defence.

Sironen, on the other hand, uses his size and power to good effect around the play-the-ball area. He takes the ball at pace and can drag in three or four tacklers.

The prop-forward positions are still up for grabs, with Ian Roberts, Paul Harragon, Glenn Lazarus and Dean Pay all vying for action. Roberts should be one of the props, and his work- rate in attack and defence is as high as any player anywhere. He makes plenty of tackles and is always looking for support players so he can off-load the ball. Steve Walters will be the hooker, who gives good service to the forwards and half-backs. Walters is one of the best runners from dummy-half and usually makes two or three surging breaks each half.

So how do you go about preparing your team to beat the Australians, an outfit with very few weaknesses and an awesome number of strengths? At Halifax, our preparations were interrupted as we should have played on Wednesday night, but the match was postponed, and we have had only three days to get ready. We have been watching videos of the Australian methods and searching for ways to penetrate their defence. Our players have been given details of the opposition's strong and weak points.

Out on the training field we have rehearsed our plays from around the play-the-ball area, before hitting the tackle-bags. We practised our marker play, concentrating on stopping the dummy-half and the inside passes. Back to the tackle-bag to practise our sliding defence. Our next job was important - quick play-the-balls. We must keep the opposition defence going backwards. Once again, we went back to the tackling bags.

Nobodylikes hitting the bags, because defence is the hardest part of rugby league, but the fact is that defence wins games. I don't know how Ellery will prepare the Great Britain team, but the only advice I can give is to make sure all the players believe in themselves as a unit. Also I hope he finds a spot for Bobby Goulding - he's been the form player in the club matches so far and he's a big- game player.

I've been coaching here for two years now and the skills of the top players are as good as anywhere. But they will need to reach another level if these Kangaroos are to be beaten.

(Photograph omitted)

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