4th November: Lions taste glory in Sydney
Richard de la Riviere looks back at what happened in Rugby League over the years on this day: 4th November.
An unbelievable performance saw Great Britain stun the Australians in Sydney to revive their Tri-Nations hopes on this day in 2006.
It remains, to this day, the last time that Great Britain or England have beaten Australia.
Having been hammered by the local media for the majority of their stay, with media pundit Phil Gould using a newspaper column to rubbish the Lions, and with Leon Pryce the subject of a witch hunt for daring to suggest that Bondi Beach wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, the pressure on the Lions was immense, especially as they had already lost their opening match against the Kiwis in Christchurch.
But the Kiwis had their two competition points taken off them for fielding an ineligible player in Nathan Fien.
The Kangaroos, who had already beaten the reigning champions New Zealand twice, were expected to put the Lions to the sword. But the tourists hadn’t read the script and competed strongly in a scoreless first quarter.
The most notable incident had been Willie Mason flooring Britain’s Stuart Fielden with a right hook. He also took out Sean Long with a late hit, with both incidents coming in the first ten minutes. But Mason remained on the field although he was later banned for a game.
The first try came just before the half-hour mark and, although it was set up by Long, it was scored by Australia. The St Helens halfback, just eight metres from the Aussie line, found only Ben Hornby with his pass, and the scrum-half, a surprising stand-in for Johnathan Thurston, raced away and found the supporting Greg Inglis, who romped home to score.
Test matches in 1994 and 2005 turned on similar tries after good British starts, and it seemed likely again that Australia would capitalise on their good fortune. But it took Long only seven minutes to make amends as he sliced through the defence between Darren Lockyer and his former Saints team-mate Jamie Lyon and sent his club-mate Paul Wellens to the posts for the equalising try.
If the hosts didn’t know they were in a game, they did a couple of minutes into the second half when the British captain Jamie Peacock, who looked to be carting up a regulation hit-up close to the try line, ended up doing wonderfully well to get the ball down despite the attention of four defenders.
But, not for the first time in his career, Lockyer engineered a try against Great Britain. His pass found Shaun Berrigan who released the teenage superstar Greg Inglis down the left and the 29-year-old captain appeared in support to score his 30th international try before levelling the scores with his second conversion of the night.
For once, though, it was the British who came strong in the final quarter.
Lee Gilmour, like Peacock, exposed Australia’s uncharacteristically poor goal-line defence when he ran diagonally towards the posts, cutting through Petero Civoniceva and Luke O’Donnell with ease, and looking as surprised as anyone when he put the ball down.
Long’s goal restored a six-point lead. But with memories of four consecutive last-gasp defeats at the hands of Australia fresh in everybody’s minds, there were plenty of nerves going into the game’s closing stages.
Sure enough the next points came from an Australian attack, but this time a misplaced pass from Civoniceva was hacked forward by man of the match Long, who regathered and found Roby.
The hooker was tackled by Nathan Hindmarsh, but on the next play the ball was moved from Gareth Ellis to Paul Wellens to Kirk Yeaman, who sent over his Hull team-mate Gareth Raynor to seal Great Britain’s first Test win down under since the famous triumph in Melbourne in 1992.
And just to rub salt into the green and gold wounds, Long sealed an excellent performance with a late drop-goal to take the score to 23-12.
A win in Wellington against the Kiwis would all but put Great Britain into the Tri-Nations final.
The game was a personal triumph for Long, whose Test career had never really got going beforehand.
“It was my best game for Great Britain,” he said, “apart from that interception pass, when I thought, ‘oh dear, it is going to be one of those days again’. And I missed a goal-kick.
“I thought they were going to do their usual Houdini trick again, and score a couple of late tries, but the boys showed character, we dug deep and our defence was awesome.
“Nobby [Great Britain coach, Brian Noble] let me take control of the side on the pitch to guide them around the field as I want to, and I am loving that.
“I am playing with some great players, and they have helped me by getting the ball to me where I can get a good kick in. But it is a team effort.”
But despite being at the top of his game, Long’s tour was about to get a whole lot more interesting…
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