What has gone wrong on Great Britain’s tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea?
Great Britain’s much-anticipated return from 12 years in hibernation is turning out to be a huge anti-climax with three defeats already on their four-match tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Here, the PA news agency looks at what has gone wrong so far for the Lions as they prepare to wrap up the tour against the Kumuls in Port Moresby on Saturday.
Have the results so far been a surprise?
Tonga are officially the fourth ranked country in the world and pushed England close in the 2017 World Cup semi-final so Great Britain’s opening tour defeat was not the seismic shock it was painted by some and the Pacific Islanders’ subsequent win over Australia underlined how strong they are. New Zealand are always a force on home soil so the Test series defeat is no real surprise, although the performance in Christchurch was way below what was required. Defeat to Papua New Guinea would be a shock.
Did the Lions get their squad selection wrong, in particular by picking six half-backs and one specialist centre in a 24-man squad?
The first thing to say is the squad has been badly affected by injury, most notably the loss of Sam Burgess. However, some of the selection issues demonstrate both the intransigence and the indecision of head coach Wayne Bennett, who was clearly content to take risks. The veteran Australian is loyal to the point of being blinkered when it comes to selecting his wingers – Regan Grace would have been no token Welshman in the squad – and the lack of depth among the threequarters has come back to bite him. He was unsure of his best half-backs throughout 2018 and taking six of them for a four-match tour seems extreme. The make-up of the 24-man party was unbalanced as the line-up for the second Test against the Kiwis illustrated, while asking Ash Handley to make a 10,000-mile dash to join the tour and exclude from the initial 21-man squad is part of the muddled thinking, although that squad could change before Saturday.
Is coach Wayne Bennett secure in the job?
Bennett is definitely under pressure. He is out of contract this year and there is a groundswell of opinion against his re-appointment. It is for the Rugby Football League and rugby director Kevin Sinfield in particular to make the decision and, if Bennett himself is keen to continue, it seems likely that his contract will be extended beyond his 70th birthday on January 1. He has alienated many people by effectively wearing his England cap while coaching the Lions but has spoken all along about preparing for the 2021 World Cup and it would be a risk changing course less than two years out. However, the coach admitted at the weekend that the team have gone backwards and he may well take the decision out of the RFL’s hands by conceding he cannot take them any further.