Rugby Union: Pension time for old guard

Rugby World Cup: Dave Hadfield says Tri-series must be a British watershed
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The Independent Online
IT WOULD take a lot more than the hollow victory over the New Zealand Maoris on Friday night to disguise the fact that for Great Britain's best rugby league players the Tri-Series has been a rude awakening, or that for some of them it could represent the end of the road.

Britain's strongest available side were soundly beaten by both Australia and New Zealand and ended the tournament with the humiliation of playing a 35-minute each-way curtain-raiser before returning to changing rooms with no showers. They did not stay to see the main event - a thrilling final between the southern hemisphere's big two - but watched enough of it on TV back at their hotel to see how far they have to go before they can think about beating either of them.

Some will not get another chance. With the squad splitting between the four home nations for next year's World Cup, it will be 2001 before Great Britain take the field again. By then, Anthony Sullivan will be almost 33, Denis Betts will be 32, Tony Smith and Dale Laughton 31, James Lowes and Gary Connolly 30 and Chris Joynt not far behind them.

Betts and Connolly are the ones who will leave the biggest gaps. Betts, who moved out on his own as Britain's most capped forward during the tournament has looked a tired player. He will be wanted by England in the World Cup, but it is hard to see him in GB colours again.

Connolly's durability has long been an object of awe, but his body was starting to show all the accumulated strain by the end of this short tour. He is committed to Ireland for the World Cup, and if he does not play for Great Britain again, he will finish with a baffling record of having played 22 Tests without scoring a single try.

It would be easy to say, after Britain's efforts, that none of their current players would represent a huge loss. But no one better was left at home and, if these were the best our domestic competition could produce, what chance for the also-rans?

The coaches of both finalists were concise but devastating in their assessment of where the British game now stands. "They've got to start having a bit more pride in themselves said the Kiwi Frank Endacott. "I watched them tonight and they need to start believing in themselves and playing with more passion. Man for man, they're not that much worse, but they're trying to beat Australia at their own game and you can't do that. We play our own brand of football and that's the way you can beat them."

Australia's Chris Anderson, who might point out that Endacott's blueprint has not quite worked, also summed it up pretty succinctly. "I thought the Poms have been disappointing," he said. "They've a lot of good footballers, but they don't work for each other. They're a better team than they've shown on this tour, but I'd like to see them play English-style football. They'll never beat us at our game."

Plenty for Andy Goodway, his successor and the whole of the British game to consider in that little lot and not a harsh or an inaccurate word among it.