FLASHBACK FRIDAY: KIWIS COMPLETE LIONS WHITEWASH AT LANCASTER PARK
As Queensland prepares to complete a rare State of Origin cleansweep over New South Wales in Sydney next Wednesday, Flashback Friday revisits the 1996 Test series between New Zealand and Great Britain, where the Frank Endacott-coached Kiwis sealed a 3-0 whitewash of the tourists in Christchurch.
Taking over the national reins in 1994, successful Canterbury coach Endacott led New Zealand to the semi-finals at the 1995 Centenary World Cup in Britain.
The Kiwis’ 1996 post-season schedule, which unfolded amid the tumult and uncertainty of the Super League war, began with emphatic wins over Papua New Guinea – 62-8 in Rotorua and 64-0 in Palmerston North – ahead of a hotly anticipated three-match rubber against the Lions.
The rivals produced a pair of thrillers in the opening two Tests, with a John Timu double spearheading the Kiwis’ 17-12 victory in the Auckland series opener and centre partner Ruben Wiki dotting down twice in an equally close-fought clash in the second Test in Palmerston North.
The third encounter in Christchurch was the first rugby league Test to be played at union stronghold Lancaster Park since New Zealand played England there in 1920, though the ground had hosted a historic premiership match between Auckland Warriors and Sydney Tigers earlier in 1996.
Meanwhile, it was the Kiwis’ first match in the South Island since they faced France at Addington Showgrounds five years earlier.
Aside from Endacott, Canberra Raiders front-row enforcer Quentin Pongia (who passed away from cancer in 2019, aged just 48) – a West Coast and Canterbury representative before breaking into international football in 1992 – added red-and-black flavour to the Matthew Ridge-led New Zealand side.
Endacott made an enforced change to his line-up, elevating dual international Marc Ellis from the bench to the wing for the injured Richie Barnett and calling up debutant Anthony Swann to the bench.
“It was his first start in a Kiwis jersey and he fell on the group and struck a water sprinkler sticking out of the ground and sliced the skin off his kneecap, which required 28 stitches,” Endacott recalled for The Press’ Tony Smith in 2019.
“Great Britain had a good side – I remember the back three in their forwards were Denis Betts, Paul Sculthorpe and Andy Farrell, they had a powerful pack, with Keiron Cunningham at hooker.
“But our guys were pretty determined. The last time they played Great Britain was on the ’93 tour where they whitewashed the Kiwis.
“We had a really good team that year.”
Defying the tight nature of the series to that point, New Zealand clinched the cleansweep with its biggest-ever victory over Great Britain, 32-12, in front of a somewhat disappointing 9,000-strong crowd.
The match was evenly poised at 6-all when a three-try burst in the last 12 minutes before halftime gave the hosts a commanding 20-6 lead.
The Kiwis went on with the job in the second stanza, with Sean Hoppe finishing off two of their six tries, Ridge adding a four-pointer to his four goals, and Ellis, Wiki and Gene Ngamu also getting over the stripe. Denis Betts and Adrian Morley scored the Lions’ tries.
In one of international rugby league’s more bizarre incidents, Great Britain centre Daryl Powell was sent off for throwing a punch at Ridge and abusing the match officials during the second half. Powell believed he’d only been sin-binned and returned to the field 10 minutes later.
Only New Zealand’s fourth series win over Great Britain, the 3-0 result saw the ’96 Kiwis join the Graham Lowe-coached 1984 vintage as the only sides to whitewash the Lions.
Lancaster Park would host one further Test match – again between New Zealand and Great Britain, during the 2006 Tri Nations – and several NRL matches before the venue was irreparably damaged during the 2011 earthquakes.
Rugby League Park at Addington has since staged two Kiwis internationals, against Scotland during the 2017 World Cup and against the Lions in 2019.
1996 NEW ZEALAND V GREAT BRITAIN – THIRD TEST
New Zealand Kiwis 32 (Sean Hoppe 2, Marc Ellis, Gene Ngamu, Matthew Ridge, Ruben Wiki tries; Ridge 4 goals) defeated Great Britain Lions 12 (Denis Betts, Adrian Morley tries; Bobbie Goulding 2 goals) at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, Friday, November 1, 1996. Halftime: NZ 20-6. Referee: Steve Clark. Sent off: Daryl Powell (GB). Crowd: 9,000.