By John Davidson,
Great Britain lock horns in New Zealand this weekend in Christchurch desperate for their first win on their southern hemisphere tour.
The Lions have been beaten by both the Tonga Invitational XIII and the Kiwis in the first two matches. With a rematch set with Michael Maguire’s men this Saturday, Great Britain is in need of a victory after 12 years in the wilderness.
Great Britain were lackluster in Hamilton against the Tongans, going down 14-8. They improved against New Zealand at Eden Park, but still lost 12-8 in a tight contest.
But pressure is mounting on the team and the coach Wayne Bennett with the Brits yet to fire a proper shot on tour. With two games left, a fixture against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby the final encounter, the trip could turn into a disaster.
Bennett has been heavily criticized for his controversial team selections that included picking six half-backs, just two wingers and one specialist centre in his original 24-man squad, as well as overlooking the likes of Regan Grace and Liam Watts.
Injuries to Oliver Gildart, Ryan Hall and Luke Thompson have further rocked the squad, and the Lions have been forced to draft in Leeds winger Ash Handley for the final match against the Kumuls.
The selection bungle by Bennett means fullback Zak Hardaker has been forced to the wing for Saturday’s game, while forward Jack Hughes will play out of position in the centres.
“We have every faith in the ability of the players within our squad to get the job done,” Bennett said.
“It is disappointing for Ryan and Oliver that they have had to leave the tour through injury.”
New Zealand have made two changes for the match in Christchurch. A shoulder injury to Kieran Foran gives Shaun Johnson a reprieve in the halves, while hooker Brandon Smith comes back after being stood down for disciplinary reasons.
Kodi Nikorima returns to the bench and Jahrome Hughes drops out of the Kiwis squad.
Utility forward Kenny Bromwich has returned to Melbourne for the birth of a child. Coach Michael Maguire is unsure if Bromwich will be back in Christchurch in time to play.
Kevin Proctor will play second-row if Bromwich isn’t available.
The Kiwis are looking to secure back-to-back wins after being beaten by Australia in Wollongong a fortnight ago.
“I’ll say it out loud: we want to be world champs,” Maguire said.
“It’s part of what we’re here for and I expect my players to be thinking like that.”
Great Britain: Jonny Lomax; Jermain McGillvary, Jack Hughes, Jake Connor, Zak Hardaker; Gareth Widdop, Jackson Hastings; James Graham (c), Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman, Tom Burgess, Josh Hodgson, Chris Hill. Reserves: Josh Jones, Joe Philbin, Daryl Clark, Alex Walmsley.
New Zealand: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Joseph Manu, Jamayne Isaako; Shaun Johnson (c), Benji Marshall; Joe Tapine, Corey Harawira-Naera, Briton Nikora, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Brandon Smith, Zane Tetevano. Reserves: Kodi Nikorima, Kevin Proctor, Leeson Ah Mau, Adam Blair.