Fri, Nov 10, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Kiwis facing tough Tri-Nations battle with Great Britain

AFP , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

Four Saints will be the biggest hurdle for the New Zealand sinners in their do-or-die Tri-Nations rugby league Test against Great Britain tomorrow.

The Kiwis were punished with the loss of all points for the sin of trying to pass off Australian-born Nathan Fien as eligible for New Zealand when he wasn't, and they must win this match to keep their slender title defense hopes alive.

But while New Zealand beat Great Britain two weeks ago, the Lions have since hit a purple patch with their shock 23-12 defeat of world champions Australia in Sydney last weekend.

Not surprisingly, Great Britain coach Brian Noble has retained the same squad to play New Zealand.

The win over Australia was built on the contributions of St Helens starters Paul Wellens, Sean Long and Leon Pryce, with a fourth Saint, James Roby, coming off the bench to play dummy half.

Their match-turning performance, after Australia scored first, was demoralizing for the Kiwis following the costly Fien selection debacle.

Long, especially, was in commanding form against Australia, bouncing back from a bone-crunching Willie Mason tackle to orchestrate the Lions' first win in Sydney since 1988, setting up tries to Wellens and Gareth Raynor.

"He was outstanding," New Zealand coach Bluey McClennan said of Long.

"He's had a big year, he's one of their key players. We understand when Sean Long plays well, it makes our job harder. It's up to us to make it a difficult night for him," he said.

Another significant factor for Great Britain will be how Stuart Fielden rebounds after being concussed by Willie Mason early in the Australian match.

British enforcer Adrian Morley is expecting a big match from Fielden this time.

"It can work one of two ways -- either knock your confidence, and you'll be a bit timid, or you can really use it as a tool to prove the people wrong, bounce back and come out stronger," Morley told the Australian newspaper.

"That's what I expect Stu to do. He's been reasonably quiet for his own high standards, we have not seen the best of him and I am sure he has a few points to prove in the next few weeks," he said.

A grim warning for New Zealand, who not only need to win, they must also claw into the 28-point differential favoring Great Britain.

Former national coach Frank Endacott said that would not happen with the conservative approach of earlier games.

Endacott, who maintained an unbeaten record against Great Britain during a seven-year reign as New Zealand coach, believed the Kiwis best chance was to throw caution to the wind.

"If they go out with the conservative game plan they have been playing -- five drives and a kick -- that won't get them their points differential. It'll end up a tight game whatever the result," he said.

"They've got to go out there and not be stupid, but chance their arm a little bit more than they have been," he said.

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