Wiki's warriors leave Great Britain with a mountain to climb

Great Britain 26 New Zealand 42
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The Independent Online

Great Britain now face a daunting task in the Tri-Nations and it will take a major improvement over the next three weeks before they look remotely capable of tackling it.

The hosts of the tournament were completely outclassed by the enterprising Kiwis on Saturday night. Old-fashioned grit and determination threatened to bring them back into the game at times in the second half, but the reality was that as far as skill, vision and teamwork were concerned, New Zealand were in a different league.

The Great Britain coach, Brian Noble, blamed a woeful first-half display on rustiness, but it was only two weeks since half the team had played in the Super League Grand Final. Neither should a side largely drawn from three clubs look so unfamiliar with each other. The Kiwis also had the handicap of flying around the world after playing their first two matches, and yet they looked fresher.

They certainly had the dominant figures in this match, from Brent Webb, who was a constant torment at full-back, to the organisational powers of Stacey Jones and the skills of David Solomona, who was a threat every time he had the ball.

The Kiwi captain, Ruben Wiki, was setting a world record of 47 caps, and this was a memorable team performance with which to mark the occasion.

"He's such a special man,'' said his coach, Brian McClennan. "He's got this ability when he walks into a room to make people feel good about themselves.''

The Kiwis had much to feel good about. They way they try to play the game, when it works, is exhilarating. They had their now traditional fallow period at the start of the second half, despite McClennan sending them out early to warm up, but they were good enough to survive it.

The other way of looking at that was that Great Britain were not good enough to take full advantage. Trailing by 16 points at half-time, they got back to within four on two occasions without really looking capable of winning.

Great Britain felt that the referee, Glen Black, a New Zealander, had allowed his fellow countrymen to slow down the play-the-ball to their advantage, but this was a night when their own errors cost them dear, especially a series of mistakes from the unfortunate vice captain, Brian Carney.

It is only a year ago that the Irishman was a hero in this tournament; on Saturday night he had the sort of game that might prove hard to blank out of his memory, and he suffered the indignity of being substituted without even the customary fig-leaf of an invented injury.

There were plenty of others who were below par, but Great Britain were not without their successes.

Bradford's Paul Johnson is a nuts-and-bolts player who was not widely expected to be in the starting 13, but his opportunism gave him the rare distinction of a Test hat-trick in a losing side. He started in the second row and ended on the wing in place of Carney and did both jobs with distinction.

All of his tries came from passes by Keiron Cunningham, which says something about the St Helens hooker's contribution in a losing cause.

In his first Test for three years he took a while to re-adjust to the rhythms of the international game, but once he did his ability to surge out of dummy-half and find the right pass for his runners - especially when that runner was Johnson - made him a major plus.

Another who did not deserve to be on the losing side was Stuart Fielden. Right from the off, he was taking the ball combatively into the heart of the Kiwi defence and he was still making damaging runs deep into the second half.

By his own admission, the Bradford prop has not had his most consistent season, but this was Fielden back to his very best.

There are some foundations to build upon as Great Britain prepare to face Australia at Wigan next Saturday. "It's not the getting knocked down, it's getting back up again,'' said Noble. "We've got some pretty substantial players in our dressing-room who can help us to do that.''

Realistically, Great Britain will now need to win three games in a row, two against Australia and one against New Zealand, to make the final, although they will still have a mathematical chance if they lose next week.

Conversely, New Zealand are 90 per cent certain to be at Elland Road on 26 November. The only cloud on their collective horizon is that the vastly influential Jones, who now has commitments with Les Catalans, his new club in France, as well as the impending birth of his child, might not be with the squad for the rest of the tournament.

"We're really lucky to have had him for the first three Tests, said McClennan. "We're taking each one and being grateful for it. It's his choice, as it has been all the time.

"We don't want to pressure him. I'll ask him once what he wants to do.''

Great Britain: Tries Johnson 3, Senior; Conversions Sinfield 4 Penalty Deacon. New Zealand: Tries Webb 2, Vatuvei, Webster, Toopi 2, Rauhihi; Conversions Jones 7.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Pryce (Bradford); Sinfield (Leeds), Deacon (Bradford); Fielden (Bradford), Cunningham (St Helens), Peacock (Bradford), Gilmour (St Helens), Johnson (Bradford), Ellis (Leeds). Substitutes used: Burrow (Leeds), Morley (Sydney), Walker (Leeds), Fozzard (St Helens).

New Zealand: Webb (NZ Warriors); Webster (Melbourne), Whatuira (Wests-Tigers), Toopi (NZ Warriors), Vatuvei (NZ Warriors); Vagana (Cronulla), Jones (NZ Warriors); Rauhihi (North Queensland), Tony (Hull), Wiki (NZ Warriors), Kidwell (Melbourne), Solomona (Wakefield), Guttenbeil (NZ Warriors). Substitutes used: Anderson (NZ Warriors), Asotasi (Canterbury), Pritchard (Penrith), Lauitiiti (Leeds).

Referee: G Black (New Zealand).

Man of the match: Jones.

Attendance: 15,568.

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