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The Sydney Morning Herald

DEFENCE BRINGS NEW LIFE TO LIONS

Author: JOHN MACDONALD
Date: 08/06/1992
Words: 1029
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 44
Quality of defence marked not only Great Britain's 11-10 win over Illawarra yesterday; it marked the 1992 squad as very different from its predecessors.

Four years ago the "second-string" Lions were beaten 30-0 by a"second-string" Manly who had as star a first-time halfback named Geoff Toovey.

Yesterday, the "second-string" Lions withstood 25 raids on their tryline before they succumbed on the 26th tackle late in the second half.

"Huge commitment. I was delighted with the lads," coach Malcolm Reilly said.

"The Steelers did have steel. They made it very hot for us. This game is a big boost."

Halfback Shaun Edwards, of plentiful Australian experience, said there was spirit and steel in the defence.

"When you've got commitment in defence you're always a chance," he said.

"Everyone's having a go. That's sometimes been lacking in Great Britain sides in past years."

Experienced Australian Test players such as Steve Roach and Peter Sterling couldn't remember a more committed and sustained British defence, and said past teams would have cracked under the weight of Illawarra possession and pressure.

Not this squad and not yesterday at Wollongong Showground, and it bodes well for a very competitive British assault against Australia at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night.

It adds point to Australian coach Bob Fulton's justifiable complaint that he hasn't been given enough preparation time.

It remains an insult to the British and a disgrace to the Australian jumper that State of Origin players can have 10 days' preparation and a week off, while Test players can be forced to turn out for their clubs days before the Test.

Prop Lee Crooks, of vivid, and sometimes fond, memory staked a strong bid for Test selection with an involved 80 minutes, which included 40 tackles and sustained running, if not his customary ball skills because of the game's nature.

"Outstanding," said Reilly. Fellow prop Ian Lucas and hooker Lee Jackson weren't far behind and second-rower Les Holliday confirmed the favourable impression he made with Widnes on the last Kangaroo tour as a skilful forward in the traditional English mould.

Lock Les McGinty was mobile and involved; all the British forwards impressed, as did Edwards and winger Graham Hallas-fast and strong with a step-and veteran fullback Steve Hampson.

Crooks and Hampson are the most realistic Test chances.

Their performances were given against an Illawarra a little down in strength but not from the standard that has them third in the Winfield Cup.

It is a measure of the confidence and depth in the club that young players can be promoted and show instant poise.

Ian Russell, a representative-standard player in all but recognition, led the Steelers forward yesterday, second-rower John Cross wasn't daunted by his stand-in captaincy, hooker Dean Schifilliti just wasn't daunted and centre Paul McGregor confirmed his future Test status with some penetrating runs.

Illawarra coach Graham Murray was impressed by both his men and the opposition.

"They didn't make too many errors," Murray said of the tourists.

"They played with a lot more discipline. When we put them under pressure we expected them to cough up a couple of balls."

The experienced Edwards, on standby for Andy Gregory should he be unfit for the Test, didn't label the British effort outstanding.

"We're not functioning as well as we can in attack," he said.

"We played dumb, but if we'd have had more ball we would have scored more points in the second half."

Edwards noted one area in which the Australians were still superior. "They play the ball more quickly," he said. "We're practising and have to try and perfect it."

Play-the-balls, which allow roll-ons and an easier advantage over the advantage line, may be one area in which the Australians are still advantaged, but the Lions showed they have markedly improved their kick-and-chase game, and tactics have advanced way beyond swinging the ball from one side to the other.

They also have lowered their tackles, with only one head-high yesterday.

There was one setback. Reilly has virtually conceded Ellery Hanley won't be playing in the Test.

It was Hallas who got the Lions away in the 15th minute when he fielded a kick from Cross and beat Tony Brittain, Cross, McGregor and Brett Docherty in an 80m stepping, pacy run to the line; and he can run.

Illawarra were on terms when a Mick Neil grubber rebounded off Crooks and Ryan Girdler got the bounce, but a converted try had Britain ahead at half-time, and it was a beauty.

Centre John Connolly beat several tacklers before Edwards sent centre Darryl Powell spearing through and then backed up inside for the pass.

A Kevin Ellis field goal skipped them further away 10 minutes after the break, but from then on they had to withstand all the steel sinks Illawarra could throw.

The break finally came when Aaron Whittaker was put into a hole, but the Lions deservedly hung on.

A happy, humorous ending to the day was the announced crowd figure of about 9,500. Illawarra share the gate with the visitors. The unannounced crowd figure was agreed on as a conservative 15,000.

GREAT BRITAIN 11 (G Hallas, S Edwards tries; J Devereaux goal, K Ellis field goal) bt ILLAWARRA 10 (R Girdler, A Whittaker tries; R Girdler goal). Referee: G Annesley. Crowd: about 9,500.

 
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