Dave Craven: Not so Great, but Britain’s return offers us all hope once again

Great Britain's players following the Gillette Tri-Nations match against Australia at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, in 2006. Picture: Charles Knight/PA.
Great Britain's players following the Gillette Tri-Nations match against Australia at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, in 2006. Picture: Charles Knight/PA.
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IT IS hard to pick out what has been my greatest moment watching Great Britain.

I am in that unfortunate generation that has never seen the national side beat Australia in a Test series, let alone win a World Cup, whether under the guise of the Lions or England.

Not so great, then, you would think. Nevertheless, some of my happiest memories as a child came from watching Great Britain in action, not least that wonderful series against the Kangaroos in 1990.

The sight of legends like Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield and Andy Gregory in Lions jerseys still stirs me now and I clearly remember how it inspired me then seeing them in action.

It is one of the reasons I, like so many have said this week, are so glad to see it confirmed that the Lions, disbanded in 2007, will be back again at last two years from now.

Countless players, coaches and administrators have said, in one way or another, that Great Britain just has a different feel to England and, as a mere onlooker, I fully understand where they are coming from.

Malcolm Reilly Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Malcolm Reilly Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

I went along to all three Tests 27 years ago, admittedly right down in the cheap seats peering through Wembley’s wired fences for that famous opener, the one that offered so much hope.

Amid all the superstars like the imperious aforementioned Hanley and Schofield, the lesser-heralded Hull winger Paul Eastwood scored two tries, and kicked three goals.

The late Roy Powell just tackled and tackled and tackled some more, Daryl Powell and Carl Gibson largely controlled their giant opponent centres Mal Meninga and Mark McGaw, while Steve Hampson leapt high like he always did to deal with whatever the Aussies’ kickers sent his way.

The front-row of Karl Harrison, Lee Jackson and Paul Dixon more than matched Martin Bella, Kerrod Walters and Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach.

I have interviewed Malcolm Reilly, the Lions coach at the time, on a number of occasions since and could listen to him all day talking about that era.

The YP’s Dave Craven

Furthermore, the victory was actually a second successive win over Australia, albeit following on from a similarly epic Test in Sydney in 1988.

No wonder so many people believed a first series victory since 1970 was on the cards.

Indeed, at Old Trafford, for the second Test, I vividly recall thinking we really were going to win again. Yes, the tourists were in control and out-played Britain at times but we were in front nevertheless.

Then, in the final throes, those agonising final seconds, Ricky Stuart scampered off as time – or the British defence, at least – seemed to stand still.

Great Britain's Ellery Hanley.

Great Britain's Ellery Hanley.

Meninga loomed large in support. Try. Game over.

Even then, I remember arriving at Elland Road for the final match thinking we could see off these pesky Kangaroos.

It was not to be, again, but what a brilliant series.

Not only that, however, what a brilliant tour; the chance to go watch the mighty Green and Golds in action against Castleford, Leeds and clubs like that was such a thrill.

I have interviewed Malcolm Reilly, the Lions coach at the time, on a number of occasions since and could listen to him all day talking about that era.

Two years on from then, I remember listening in at school on the radio for that memorable night in Melbourne when Schofield did his thing and Graham Steadman scored that stunning solo try when ghosting down Australia’s right flank.

Granted, another one-off win. But 2019 offers us all hope again.