Rugy: It's back to basics for GB

Great Britain 16 New Zealand 22
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The Independent Online
GREAT BRITAIN put up a sterling second-half fight in the first Lincoln Test last night, but were not good enough for long enough to deny the Kiwis first blood in the series. For two periods after the break, a side inspired by the late introduction Iestyn Harris looked as though they might make up for their shapelessness in the first half.

During the first of those bursts of compelling activity, the home side came back from 12-2 down to square the scores. Then, in the last five minutes, they came close to wiping out another 10-point lead. "The players think we should have won this match and we haven't done," said their coach, Andy Goodway.

Two contentious refereeing decisions in particular will have left them feeling that way. The first was right on the stroke of half-time when they committed the cardinal sin of turning their backs on the play-the- ball as the hooter sounded. The interpretation of the referee, Bill Harrigan, was that one tackle had been completed and that there was another to play. Joe Vagana was able to saunter in, scarcely believing his luck. "You're taught from 10-years-old to play to the referee's whistle," said the Kiwi coach Frank Endacott.

Goodway had gone in for his familiar subterfuge by starting with Paul Sculthorpe in the No. 6 shirt, but packing down in the scrum, and, more critically, with Harris on the bench. In a half that lacked much of the expected intensity and ferocity, Harris could well have found attacking opportunities from the start; instead, it was the second half before he began to exert his influence.

In the meantime, New Zealand had seized the advantage. After 13 minutes, Kevin Iro made ground down the left, and their man of the match Stacey Jones put in a low kick that did not seem to present any obvious danger. Kris Radlinski was perhaps fractionally slow on the turn and Steve Kearney beat him to the ball for a try, duly converted by that most reliable of kickers, Daryl Halligan.

Great Britain did not get on the scoreboard until the 39th minute when Terry O'Connor, who had already lost one ball in a tackle, was judged to have had another stolen illegally and Farrell put over the penalty.

Gary Connolly, Tony Smith and Paul Newlove all threatened at the start of the second half before Chris Joynt and Keiron Cunningham did well to keep the ball alive and send Keith Senior over in the corner.

Three minutes later Harris's superb long pass released Newlove for a try. Farrell missed both conversions to leave Great Britain still two points behind, but he soon had his chance to level the scores when Connolly was pulled back after Harris and Sculthorpe had split the defence.

Two moments of sheer class then decided it, Henry Paul standing in the tackle to send Jones away and then, 10 minutes from time, Kearney slipping out a magnificent one-handed pass for Robbie Paul to score.

Britain's second burst of convincing rugby saw Jason Robinson dart through on to Lee Gilmour's kick, but they had left themselves too much to do. They pressed hard for the remaining five minutes and thought might have had something when Robbie Paul tackled Senior illegally while he was still in the air after catching Farrell's kick on the try-line. They believed, as they were bound to do, that they might have been awarded a penalty try and even Paul admitted: "It did flash in my mind, but you have to do whatever it takes."

In that, he succeeded, at the cost of a penalty which was not of sufficient help to a Great Britain side running out of time. It was certainly a decision which could have gone the other way. So could the match, but on reflection, Goodway and his men may feel that they will have to do more to win the two remaining Tests.

Great Britain: Radlinski (Wigan); Robinson (Wigan), Connolly (Wigan), Newlove (St Helens), Senior (Sheffield); Sculthorpe (St Helens), Smith (Wigan); Cowie (Wigan), Cunningham (St Helens), Fleary (Leeds), Joynt (St Helens), Gilmour (Wigan), Farrell (Wigan, capt). Substitutes used: Harris (Leeds), Laughton (Sheffield), Haughton (Wigan), O'Connor (Wigan) .

New Zealand: Barnett (Sydney City); Hoppe (Auckland), K Iro (Auckland), Wiki (Canberra), Halligan (Canterbury); R Paul (Bradford), Jones (Auckland); Vagana (Auckland), Eru (Auckland), Pongia (Auckland, capt), McCracken (Parramatta), Kearney (Auckland), Swann (Auckland). Substitutes used: H Paul (Wigan), T Iro (Adelaide), T Puletua (Penrith), N Cayless (Parramatta).

Referee: Bill Harrigan (Australia).