Flashback Friday: Kiwis edge Lions at Showgrounds to clinch World Cup final spot
With all grades called off this week due to the weather, Flashback Friday recalls a famous match played in even worse conditions.
It what ranks among one of the most dramatic and important Test matches ever staged in Christchurch, the one-off clash between New Zealand and Great Britain at Addington Showground in 1988 had more at stake than the average Kiwis v Lions encounter.
The showdown effectively became a play-off to see which nation would take on Australia in the World Cup final later that year, with competition points accrued from the last Test of every series between 1985 and ’88 in a novel four-year, home-and-away World Cup format.
The Lions’ memorable 26-12 upset of Australia in the third Test in Sydney lifted Great Britain ahead of New Zealand on the World Cup table, setting up a tantalising encounter in Christchurch.
Great Britain’s boilover at the SFS had provided the tourists with confidence and favouritism heading into the match, but the Kiwis were coming off a commanding 66-14 thrashing of Papua New Guinea at Carlaw Park.
Relentless rain made for a familiarly muddy Showground surface, compounding the cold July conditions, but that was not enough to deter the hardy crowd turnout of 8,525.
Gary Freeman (pictured), who started on the bench behind Clayton Friend and Shane Cooper, replaced injured lock Mark Horo after just 13 minutes and scored two first-half tries to steer the Dean Bell-led Kiwis to a 12-8 halftime advantage.
The second stanza was a war of attrition as the Lions, captained by the great Ellery Hanley and featuring fellow superstars Andy Gregory, Martin Offiah and Kevin Ward, strived to overhaul the deficit. But a Paul Loughlin penalty goal would be the only scoring play of an incredibly tense half of football, the Kiwis holding on for a courageous 12-10 triumph.
Canterbury forwards Adrian Shelford (pictured with Great Britain forward Hugh Waddell) and Wayne Wallace were among New Zealand’s heroes in front of their home crowd, while Esene Faimalo was an unused reserve. Shelford, then playing for English heavyweights Wigan, was regarded as unlucky to miss out on man-of-the-match honours, which went to front-row opponent Ward.
Sadly, Shelford passed away in England aged just 39 due to a heart attack in 2003.
Reaching the World Cup final was a watershed achievement for New Zealand, although the Eden Park decider against Australia turned into a nightmare, trounced 25-12 in front of a deflated sell-out crowd in October.
New Zealand 12 (Gary Freeman 2 tries; Peter Brown 2 goals) defeated Great Britain 10 (David Hulme, Paul Loughlin tries; Loughlin goal) at Addington Showground, Christchurch, July 17, 1988. Referee: Mick Stone. Crowd: 8525.
NEW ZEALAND: Darrell Williams, Shane Horo, Dean Bell (c), Kevin Iro, Gary Mercer, Shane Cooper, Clayton Friend, Peter Brown, Wayne Wallace, Adrian Shelford, Mark Graham, Sam Stewart, Mark Horo. Reserves: Gary Freeman. Coach: Tony Gordon.
GREAT BRITAIN: Phil Ford, Henderson Gill, David Stephenson, Paul Loughlin, Martin Offiah, David Hulme, Andy Gregory, Kevin Ward, Kevin Beardmore, Hugh Waddell, Mike Gregory, Roy Powell, Ellery Hanley (c). Reserves: Paul Hulme. Coach: Malcolm Reilly.