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Game V Preview: New Zealand v Great Britain
Last week?s upset by the Brits has breathed some life into a Tri-Nations tournament that was beginning to drown in a pool of its own blood.
Once again, just when International Rugby League was struggling to pinch a headline from hybrid Gaelic football, the Gods of controversy summoned human backpage Willie Mason to belt Stuart Fielden into his own private universe.
But the Lions rallied and played some good footy, showing the world stage that there is life in the Old Dart after all. I thought Peacock and Wellens went well, with Pryce a capable five-eighth and Long showing some quality form.
Thanks to Fien?s disqualification and New Zealand?s subsequent point?s fine, Game V of the series holds quite a lot of significance in the context of the tournament.
Let?s take a look at the teams?
Great Britain: Paul Wellens, Brian Carney, Keith Senior, Kirk Yeaman, Gareth Raynor, Leon Pryce, Sean Long, Stuart Fielden, Terry Newton, Jamie Peacock (c), Gareth Ellis, Gareth Hock, Sean O'Loughlin
Interchange: James Roby, Adrian Morley, Lee Gilmour, Jon Wilkin, Danny McGuire
Noble has made no changes to the side that took the field against Australia last week with late withdrawal McGuire taking his place on the bench and Raynor holding his position in the halves. McGuire will likely drop off the bench with the remaining replacements all playing strongly.
Now for the Kiwis?
New Zealand: Brent Webb, Shontayne Hape, Iosia Soliola, Steve Matai, Manu Vatuvei, Nigel Vagana, Stacey Jones, Ruben Wiki (c), Dene Halatau, Roy Asotasi, David Kidwell, Simon Mannering, David Fa'alogo
Interchange: Motu Tony, Nathan Cayless, Adam Blair, Frank Pritchard
My initial thoughts of disbelief at the exclusion of Jason Cayless have not quite subsided. I?m glad to see Blair and Pritchard back on the bench but I still can?t fathom how Mannering gets a start ahead of big Jase.
Halatau has another shot at hooker, but adds little creativity from there, I?d prefer to see him running on the fringes of the ruck a little more and I?d expect Tony to spend a bit of time at dummy half.
In the backs, Hape comes in for Tupou, with Matai coming back from injury. Vagana shifts up to five-eighth with Ropati dropped altogether. Stace remains at no.7 and the rest of the team is unchanged from their last outing in Christchurch.
Last week I picked the Aussies, probably like most people, but I did conclude that we could at least gauge any improvement in the British team.
I think it?s fair to say that there were some encouraging signs for the Lions and now that they?ve had a bit more time on the park together you?d think they?d continue to work better as a unit. Let?s not forget that they took on a massive Kangaroo pack and came out on top, even with Fielden?s limited game time.
But it was also a case of the Aussies playing pretty poorly, grassing several chances and probably the worst offender was Mason close to the line. They scored a try from an intercept and that?s never a positive indication of a team?s attack.
Up front, I?m keen to see how Fielden responds to the current circumstances he finds himself in. His early knee injury against the Newcastle XIII, a quiet start to the series and then Mason?s punch last week have all added to a colourful tour for the big prop. And now it?s emerged that his mother passed away shortly before the tour, so one would assume he has plenty on his mind right now.
The Kiwi?s won?t give an inch though and they have an imposing pack with the exception of Mannering. Wiki and Asotasi have been brutal, we?ve all seen what Kidwell?s capable of and Fa?alogo is developing into a versatile backrower.
Off the bench they also have hitmen in Pritchard and Blair whilst Nathan Cayless offers a more steadying influence. They?ll need it though, the Lion?s bench was great last week with veteran Morley playing fiercely and good support coming in the shape of Roby, Wilkin and Gilmour.
There are also some similarities in both teams, like three-quarters Vagana and Pryce at five-eighth.
This is a tough game to call and following the match in Christchurch I thought this would be the one to decide who would meet Australia in the final. As it turns out things aren?t that simple and the Lions have another chance to make the final next week in Brisbane.
But after beating Australia last week could they do it again? My feeling here is that New Zealand know this could be their last game in the 2006 tournament and they won?t leave anything on the field.
So I?m going to tip the Kiwis in a contest that has the potential to be very physical, and let?s hope we finally see the best of Fielden.