FLASHBACK: November 1998


New Zealand clinched their first series win in Great Britain since 1971, with a record 36-16 victory before a capacity crowd of 27,884, at the Reebok Stadium, home of Bolton Wanderers’ Football Club.

It extended the Kiwis’ run of successive wins over Britain to a record breaking five; the 36 points was the most they had scored against Britain and the 20 points gap equaled their widest margin.

Another record went to winger, Sean Hoppe from the Auckland Warriors, whose try made him New Zealand’s most prolific scorer of Test tries, with a career total of 17.

Fullback, Richie Barnett from the Sydney Roosters, was named man of the match, for his two try effort.

Britain led 16-8 at halftime with winger, Jason Robinson and Welsh five eighth, Iestyn Harris causing all sorts of problems for the Kiwis’ defence.

But the Brits fell apart in the second half, with skipper, Andy Farrell rating it the worst 40 minutes he had played in. But Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott claimed even world champions, Australia could not have lived with his side, in that period.

New Zealand had won the First Test 22-16 in Huddersfield. The Third Test was played on a rain lashed night, at Vicarage Road, Watford and finished in a 23-all draw, played in front of a crowd of 13,278. (Vicarage Road is the home of Watford Football and Saracens Rugby).

It seemed the Kiwis would win when halfback, Stacey Jones – the player of the series – kicked a field goal in the 71st minute to make the score 23-22. But the Brits forced a draw when halfback, Tony Smith, from Wigan, kicked a field goal five seconds from full time. It was the first field goal of his career.

Kiwi five eighth, Robbie Paul, from Bradford Northern, scored two tries.

Australian referee, Bill Harrigan controlled all three Tests.

Photo 1: Britain’s Tony Smith taken low by Tony Puletua and high by Joe Vagana at Watford. That’s Quentin Pongia in the background.

My wife, Marie and I attended the Watford Test, with members of my rugby league tour group, who had been travelling around Europe, Ireland and the UK.

We sat with Marie’s niece, Kellie and her South African boyfriend, who was seeing his first game of league, and seemed to enjoy it. Kellie was working in London at the time.

My Supporters’ Group was meant to be a ‘Kangaroo Supporters Group’, but the Super league ‘War’ of 1995-97, trashed the international calendar. The 1994 ‘Roos in Britain had brought with them a record number of Aussie supporters, and people signed up in droves for the next tour in ’98. But the split in the game saw an end to the international cycle of tours, and we still haven’t got a reliable, new calendar up and running.

I had 43 people with me on the ’94 tour, after 32 had followed me in 1990. In 1998 I had another 32 people travel with me, and although we had no Australian team to support, we still had a rugby league flavor, with visits to league strongholds in the south of France, as well as the Watford Test.

At Stade De Toulouse, in France, a crowd of 10,283 was on hand to watch the final of the ‘Treize Tournoi’, between French club, Villeneuve-sur-Lot and English club, Lancashire Lynx.

The other clubs in the tournament were Limoux and St Esteve (France); Featherstone Rovers and Wakefield Trinity (England), with matches played over a month long period.

Villeneuve, captained by Fabien Devecchi at five eighth, defeated Lancashire Lynx 16-10 in the final. Overseas players in the ‘Vill’ line-up were Paul Sironen, Steve Plath and Grant Doorey (Australia) and Vincent Wulf (Samoa).

The Lynx were captained by hooker, Andy Ruane and coached by former Great Britain fullback, Steve Hampson.

The tournament, conducted over a month long period, was an outstanding success, providing a boost for the game in France, in particular.

Sironen, the former Balmain, New South Wales and Australian star, was a hero in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, where my wife and I have spent a number of holidays. Sirro lasted only 20 minutes of the final, before he left the field with a knee injury, later blaming old age.

Steve Plath, the brother of Broncos’ utility, John Plath, set up a try for Doorey, but was then carried off on a stretcher.

Grant Doorey, who previously played for Keighley in England, was coach, but handed the captaincy to Frenchman, Devecchi. Doorey went on to coach extensively in rugby union and is currently at Verona in Italy.

Lynx, the English Second Division champions, were thought to be just making up the numbers in the tournament,

Photo 2: President of the English League, Lord Derby meets 1971 Kiwi skipper, Roy Christian. Kiwi manager, Jack Williams is also in the picture. 

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