The trouble with the Great Britain Test team to play Australia this
afternoon is that their alibi is already prepared and neatly filed away, ready
for future use.
Whenever members of the tour party clink together their glasses of orange
juice - abstemious bunch - the toast should be "Absent Friends".
Tour management have not laboured the point so far, but the sad fact is
that half our first-choice Test side is missing today.
Steve Hampson is a fullback whose form this season puts him right in the
Jack and Belcher bracket, but he is still nursing a broken arm.
Joe Lydon and Des Drummond - back to his best after his unimpressive stint
with Wests two years ago - would have been valuable for their pace and Test
experience. But they both took matters into their own hands when they became
embroiled in the worsening spiral of crowd misbehaviour in Britain.
The English League dislikes accusations from spectators that they have
been assaulted by players, and it has made examples of Lydon and Drummond.
Shaun Edwards would have been a pivotal ball-distributor and a maker of
damaging breaks from Andy Gregory's passes, but he seems doomed always to break
down before he can play in Australia.
Lee Crooks would have - hopefully - blended skill and aggression in the
right proportions to trouble Australia up front, but he is still short of
Perhaps worst of all is the case of Andy Goodway, who chose to stay at
home at the last minute to "open a restaurant", a prospect that strikes anyone
who knows Goodway as quite hilarious.
Many believe that his professed reason is good old Anglo-Saxon code for
having a good idea of what was on the menu in Australia, and not fancying it one
The absence of all these outstanding players means that several of today's
side are being asked to fill unfamiliar roles.
Paul Loughlin is a centre with St Helens, although he has played fullback
as a junior. His form in that position on tour has been decidedly mixed.
David Hulme is the halfback at Widnes, although he sometimes moves to
Paul Dixon has looked one of the more forceful English forwards so far,
although he has had little experience at prop. Coach Malcolm Reilly is confident
he can do well there.
But that confidence is based on a pet theory that blind-side is the
easiest position on the park and that almost anyone can slot in there.
On the other side, perhaps it's complacency, perhaps it's interstate
politics, or more likely a potent brew of the two, but the Australian selectors
have produced a team which, from a British point of view, could be much, much
A team seriously geared to giving of the hardest possible time should have
genuine wingers to exploit the dubious defensive qualities of the English
There should also be something resembling a ball-handler in the pack, and
Benny Elias should be there to give Great Britain nightmares at dummy-half.
And leaving out proven Pom-maulers like Noel Cleal and Gene Miles gives
Great Britain a psychological boost.