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The Sydney Morning Herald

GREAT BRITAIN SERVES UP A SURPRISE

Author: JOHN MACDONALD
Date: 12/06/1988
Words: 662
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 46
To offer a verbal smorgasbord, we were left with egg all over our faces and humble pie never tasted so good. "We" are all those who prematurely buried the Great Britain Rugby League team before the first Test.

Coach Malcolm Reilly was right in asking us to suspend judgment until his top 13 had shown what they could do in the Test. Great Britain were competitive and have kept alive international football. The tourists were not only competitive, they were a little unlucky.

The 17-6 score does not reflect how close they came to winning.

It was not a Test to remember, save for referee Francis Desplas's destructive contribution. Something must be done about Monsieur Desplas. It should not be giving him another whistle for Christmas. The stop-start first half which destroyed any fluidity suited the visitors. How ironic they went down after the first two Australian tries in the second half.

Equally importantly, Desplas's exhibition was an insult to people who had paid $32 and $20 to see some football. The 24,000 crowd was excellent, but it won't be repeated if M. Desplas gives a similar display again. Even allowing for their not being allowed to develop rhythm in the first half, Australia were well below par.

There were some ordinary performances on the day, but they will get the chance to atone. Paul Vautin was not one of them, and did not deserve to be replaced.

The Australian selectors are unlikely to make changes to a winning team, although they have been allowed the option to restore Wayne Pearce to his rightful position. Australia will be much better for the second Test in Brisbane. So will Great Britain improve, but Saturday was their best chance and they almost made it.

They had the advantage of mystery, but their talent has now been revealed. They were not always disciplined and predictable in the way regimented Winfield Cup teams are. Still, it was exhilarating to see how a bit of spontaneity and the unorthodox worried the Australians.

There should be more of it.

Three things stick in the mind from the Test. Peter Sterling showed the qualities of a champion to overcome a disappointing first half and a shoulder injury that threatened his withdrawal at half-time. Sterling's effort was sheer guts and class.

Then there is the image of Great Britain half Andy Gregory at the end of the match which said it all. He had given 100 per cent and stood on the field alone, heartbroken and with hands half raised, Jimmy Cagney style. While other players mingled and shook hands, Gregory was a solitary figure for minutes, trying to understand how it had got away.

Finally, there was Great Britain prop Kevin Ward, as good a forward as we have seen these past few years. Big in physique and big in performance, Ward was a disconsolate figure as he accepted his Man-of-the-Match award. Ward was gracious, mentioned he would share the $1,000 with the lads, but could not hide his utter desolation of defeat.

The $1,000 meant less than nothing. It was well deserved, but Ward would have given a million for a win.

AUSTRALIA 17 (Peter Jackson 2 Sam Backo tries; Michael O'Connor 2 goals Wally Lewis field goal) bt GREAT BRITAIN 6 (Ellery Hanley try; Paul Loughlin goal). Crowd: 24,480. Referee: Francis Desplas (France).

 
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