x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kearney takes the blame for off-form Leuluai

The New Zealand coach defends Thomas Leuluai after he offered to take the blame for their defeat against Australia

SYDNEY // The New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney yesterday sprang to the defence of Wigan scrum-half Thomas Leuluai after he offered to take the blame for his side's 30-6 defeat by Australia. The Kiwis made a poor start to the tournament with a below-par performance, where Leuluai, the only England-based player in their 24-man squad, and half-back partner Benji Marshall were out-played by Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston.

"I put my hand up, I was pretty bad," said Leuluai. A possible reshuffle would see Nathan Fien move to scrum-half and hooker Issac Luke come into the side for Saturday's must-win match against Papua New Guinea but Kearney insisted Leuluai's place in the side was safe. "I don't think Thomas was out there by himself," he said. "We had 17 guys trying to do the same thing in terms of helping the side go forward. I don't think Thomas is to blame for that."

Kearney's men flew to the Gold Coast yesterday to prepare for their next match and Kearney warned his players Papua New Guinea will be no walkover after their show against England. "In terms of the confidence, I mentioned to them it's pretty important we get ourselves ready because they were very committed against England," he added. * PA Sport