Last night's RL test match, between Great Britain and New Zealand, pointed up something it's easy to forget, thanks to the dearth of internationals. That is how the character of league-playing nations varies. The Australians usually come on tour with three annoying, but transparently gifted stars, but they aren't the point. Neither is their traditional monster thug, the Paul Sironen or Gorden Tallis figure. The killers are the other nine men, who all look the same and have professional qualities and body types such that they can all play each other's positions and occasionally do. They all seem to be called Brad, to be 5'8" tall, about 16-17 stone, blond, and come from Sydney. (The monster thug and the three superstars are more diverse and come from Queensland, either Brisbane Broncos or somewhere in the outback.) Call them the Brad units, fabbed like silicon chips by some mysterious robotising process.
Because of this, British fans tend to underestimate them. You look at the squad list and think - Who are these people? Right, if we can wallop Johns from the word BANG, keep the ball away from Girdler, and test Lockyer under the high ball, Adrian Morley can take care of [insert thug here]. Job's a good 'un.
Two weeks later it's pissing with slate-coloured rain on [thug]'s bleeding cranium and yours as he glares at Morley in the sin-bin, Lockyer on the bench, Johns undergoing medical treatment, Girdler sulking in the stand, and the Brad-units running in their 11th try to make it 70-0. This non-individuality almost makes losing to them palatable..like losing to a computer. The Aussies, of course, both deny this and cultivate it, rather like German football teams used to cultivate the British stereotype of them as an impersonal machine whilst bitching savagely about each other in the German press as soon as they got back to Frankfurt.
New Zealand are very different. The ideal Australian player is a Brad unit. The ideal New Zealander is either Robbie Paul or Lesley Vainikolo. This is extreme rugby, played by men who will never escape identification. There are three types of New Zealand player - tiny scrum halves of a different kind to anywhere else in the world, like Robbie, Gary Freeman or the incumbent Stacey Jones, who I swear made more ground running than most of the forwards last night, wingers bigger than other countries' prop forwards who usually have wild hair and wilder eyes as they charge around, turning up on the opposite wing as often as their own, and terrifying back-rowers with similar hair and worse attitude (Brendon Tuuta and Tawera Nikau, step forward).
Because of this, reliability eludes. Nobody in a NZ team is ever content with Brad-unit status. This was why, when the Auckland Warriors were formed to compete in the Australian league, with essentially a complete New Zealand squad, they often disappointed. There's also a small-country issue with people who play in the UK, who are rarely selected. Unless their surname is Paul, of course, but then, genius makes its own rules. Some say the legendary coach, Graham Lowe, managed to overcome this with the great Kiwi team of the late 80s, but I hear they were a pretty wild lot still.
This was why, last night, the beating was so stinging. Not only did the Lions get within four points of them twice in the second half but fail, they then ran amok on us. Losing to Australia is like losing to a computer, or a team of robots. Losing to New Zealand is like a sudden eruption of barbarians, 26-42. Bugger.