Status quo remains unrocked

Dave Hadfield on the spectacle which attracted the fans in droves
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The Independent Online
THE status quo is intact. Not just pre-match entertainers Francis Rossi and Co's hairstyles and denims, which will still be there for the game's second centenary, but also the balance of power in the world of rugby league.

It was not that England played badly, more that Australia had a more varied collection of riffs at their disposal. There were no attempts at excuses in the England camp for what had been essentially a one-note performance.

There were, to be sure, a number of line decisions that went Australia's way, including their first try and a marginal one that denied Paul Newlove a touchdown from Martin Offiah's run.

Replays also suggested that Tim Brasher had tripped Tony Smith when the England stand-off set sail for what could have been a crucial try. Brasher, who would have been off the field if a trip had been detected, took Australia out of England's range with another try that involved a close call. But it was noticeable that the England captain, Denis Betts, did not believe after the match that Smith had been tripped. The referee, Stuart Cummings, agreed and Brasher was still there to clinch it for the Aussies.

Betts was part of an England back row that failed to strike its form of the rest of the tournament. Phil Clarke, normally so reliable, made a couple of horrible mistakes, the first of them directly responsible for the opening try. There were other disappointments too, such as Bobbie Goulding's kicking game, Lee Jackson's inability to find space from acting- half and England's collective failure to involve their wing men sufficiently.

One man exempt from all criticism is Gary Connolly, brought in after a five-week layoff with pneumonia. Whatever frailties Australia exposed, none of them were his and he showed by the way he man-handled Brasher into touch early in the game that his illness had not robbed him of any of his strength. "He deserved a medal," Phil Larder, his coach, said. So did they all, but unfortunately they were the familiar runners-up variety.

England's failure should not detract from admiration for Australia's strength, organisation and resilience. Their coach, Bob Fulton, has also shown the ability to improvise his way out of a tactical impasse by giving players new roles. One of them, Andrew Johns, a half-back used as hooker and first receiver yesterday, was a clear man of the match.

Nor should English disappointment spoil the lasting impression of a wonderfully successful tournament.

Much disparaged and fretted over before it began, the Halifax Centenary World Cup has been a roaring success, raising the profile of the game and particularly its international dimension beyond all expectations. The future might be uncertain, with Fulton predicting yesterday that the two sides in the Super League dispute will have to reach a compromise if there is to be any international competition next year, but, for the most part political considerations have been kept on the sidelines.

Rugby league may not yet be, as Quo suggested before the match, "Rocking All Over The World" but it has caused quite a stir in this little corner.

Larder's lot, page 30

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