Monday, November 12, 2007

One Lion on a shirt....

So, Saturday saw Great Britain complete their first series whitewash since 1993 with a 3-0 victory of New Zealand. Much has been made by those who seek to knock the British game about the players the Kiwis were missing (Sonny Bill Williams, Benji Marshall etc) but injuries and unavailability are a fact of life in international sport and for the majority of the 240 minutes in this series the Kiwis were second best.

Great Britain played - particularly in the 44-0 Second Test win - with a flair and urgency not seen all too often under former coach Brian Noble. The offloading, expansive style Tony Smith applied successfully both this year and in 2004 at Leeds paid off with the team looking for opportunities to attack from good field position rather than simply completing sets and relying on the opposition making mistakes.

Several players stood up during this series over whom there had been potential question marks at international level. Leon Pryce - so often used in a utility role or as a winger - grabbed the stand off jersey and made it his own with two assured performances showing a keen footballing brain to go with his elusive running. Rob Burrow was supposed to get smashed all over the park by the rough, tough forwards at this level yet took on the organising role to such good effect, mixing it with his trademark quick feet and hitherto unseen field kicking game. Jamie Peacock led the pack from the front, never more so than his tempo-setting try 70 seconds into the Second Test, bumping off defenders and refusing to be stopped from getting over the line.

This series has been about both sides bringing in new players to key positions alongside some more experienced heads - Graham, Burrow, Clarke, Fa'asavalu, Burgess for GB, Perrett, Smith, Roberts, Lauaki and the like for the visitors. Home advantage or not, it is Britain's new blood that hit the ground running in this series and it bodes to well for the future. There will no doubt be further turnover in both squads prior to the 2008 World Cup with the likes of Keith Senior contemplating international retirement, but the fact that GB has used 23 players in this series shows that depth - once the achilles heel of British teams - is less of a worry now than it has been. Long may it remain so, if the Lion is to eventually challenge the Kiwi and the Kangaroo on a regular basis.

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