Lions tour 2019: Great Britain's 2007 Test series against New Zealand
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 29/10/19 12:36pm
It is 12 years since New Zealand and Great Britain faced off in a Test series, with the Kiwis' tour to these shores proving one for the history books.
The tour coincided with the centenary of what is widely considered the birth of international rugby league, when a team from New Zealand embarked on a lengthy tour of the UK including three Tests against the Northern Union.
It would prove to be the last time Great Britain appeared on the international stage until this year as well and the Lions bowed out in style, whitewashing the Kiwis in the three-Test series.
- Bennett makes three changes for NZ Test
- Johnson axed by Kiwis for GB Test
- Lions seek response to defeat
With the Lions and New Zealand going head to head for the first time since 2007 this Saturday, we take a look back at those matches and some of the memorable moments from the series…
Celebrating the All Golds' legacy
In 1907, a team of intrepid New Zealanders organised by Albert Baskerville embarked upon a historic tour of Great Britain to play rugby under the rules of what was then known as the Northern Union.
Dubbed the 'All Golds' - in contrast to the strictly amateur rugby union All Blacks who toured the UK two years prior - the team took on the professional clubs in the north of England and Wales, along with playing three Test matches against the best British players in the Northern Union.
When the modern-day New Zealand team returned to the UK 100 years later, it was agreed to celebrate the anniversary of that tour with a one-off match prior to the main Test series getting underway.
Former Kiwi stars Nigel Vagana, Ruben Wiki and Stacey Jones all came out of retirement to feature for the All Golds in the commemorative clash with the Northern Union, while future Great Britain head coach Wayne Bennett accepted an invitation to coach the team.
Australia international Steve Price, then with NRL side New Zealand Warriors, featured on the All Golds side as well in a nod towards Kangaroos all-time great Dally Messenger playing for the New Zealanders on the 1907/08 tour.
The Northern Union team for the clash at Warrington's Halliwell Jones Stadium, overseen by Lions head coach Tony Smith, featured established internationals and a mix of players in consideration for the upcoming Test series squad.
Played under the scoring system of 1907 - three points for a try, two points for all goals - it was the New Zealanders who triumphed 25-18 on the back of two tries from Ali Lauitiiti, one apiece from Greg Eastwood, Louis Anderson and Clint Toopi, and five goals from five attempts for Jones.
The playmaker known as 'the Little General' was given a Haka send-off by his team-mates at full-time to bring the curtain down on his illustrious playing career as well.
Smith, on the other hand, was left with plenty to ponder ahead of the Test series - not least sweating on whether Adrian Morley and Danny Tickle would face bans after being placed on report for high tackles.
But a man of the match display from an 18-year-old forward by the name of Sam Burgess announced his arrival on the international stage and earned the Bradford Bulls player a call-up to the Great Britain team.
First Test - Great Britain 20-14 New Zealand
New Zealand came into the three-Test series against Great Britain having already suffered a chastening 58-0 defeat in the Centenary Test against Australia in Wellington prior to flying out to the UK.
Gary Kemble's side were without Steve Matai for the tour due to him being sent off against the Kangaroos as well, while Krisnan Inu and Luke Covell were ruled out of the trip due to injury.
Great Britain would feature two debutants in their squad, with Burgess joined by former Samoa rugby union international Maurie Fa'asavalu after the St Helens forward gained eligibility on residency grounds.
As was the case with Jackson Hastings and Blake Austin being called up this year, Fa'asavalu's selection was not without controversy. However, the Lions' Australian head coach had no concerns ahead of the first Test in Huddersfield.
"Given time, Maurie will be taken on by the English and British people as one of their own, as they have done with many other sports," Smith said.
Any controversy was swiftly forgotten on 29 minutes when Fa'asavalu crashed over from close range to cancel out Shontayne Hape's unconverted score after three minutes, followed by Rob Burrow kicking the conversion in the absence of the ill Kevin Sinfield.
Burrow then added a penalty, but it was the Kiwis who took a 10-8 lead into the break when try-scorer Fa'asavalu spilled a pass which was recovered by Paul Whatuira for him to grab a converted score six minutes before the hooter sounded.
The Lions retook the lead nine minutes into the second half thanks to great alertness from winger Gareth Raynor, who chased down a kick on halfway from Burrow and dived on it in-goal after New Zealand full-back Sam Perrett had left the ball to bounce.
Then Burgess - the youngest GB debutant since Andy Farrell 14 years earlier - capped his first taste of Test rugby league with a debut try after taking a pass from Leon Pryce and powering through to score, just minutes after being placed on report for a high tackle.
Hape's second try five minutes from time kept New Zealand in the contest, but Great Britain held on to secure a 20-14 win and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Second Test - Great Britain 44-0 New Zealand
The series moved to Hull for the second Test, but the build-up was shrouded in controversy as Burgess was cleared to play by a disciplinary panel after being put on report by referee Tony Archer in the first match of the series.
It followed Morley being cleared the previous week after a high tackle in the All Golds match, with New Zealand Rugby League chairman Andrew Chalmers blasting the sport's authorities as being "intent on treating us like a bunch of natives from the colonies".
On the field, however, it was one-way traffic as Great Britain sealed their first international series win since 1993 by running out 44-0 winners against the Kiwis at KC Stadium.
Lions captain Jamie Peacock set the tone as early as the second minute, rampaging through the New Zealand defence and shrugging off several tackle attempts to score a try converted by the returning Sinfield.
Pryce's first international try for five years and one from home favourite Raynor pushed Great Britain's lead out to 16-0 at half time, followed by Paul Wellens getting in on the act 10 minutes into the second half.
Ade Gardner, Burrow and Keith Senior all crossed as well, but it was Pryce who had the final say as the St Helens man intercepted a pass and raced 60 metres for his second of a scintillating performance from the hosts.
"That's the way Tony has always liked us to play at Leeds, and he's been no different since he took over Great Britain," Burrow said afterwards.
The result saw the Lions reclaim the Baskerville Shield by going 2-0 up in the series with one game to play, leaving the Kiwis searching to avoid a whitewash when the series concluded in Wigan.
Third Test - Great Britain 28-22 New Zealand
Victory in the final Test of the series would see Smith have a record of four wins from his first four games in charge of Great Britain, but opposite number Kemble was starting to feel the heat.
Things got worse for the former Hull FC full-back in the build-up to the series finale when Roy Astotasi delivered a far from ringing endorsement of Kemble's coaching ability.
"Gary hasn't been coaching at this level and has no experience at National Rugby League or Super League level," Asotasi said.
"A lot of players have been coached by elite coaches. Gary's approach is a bit different and we are just trying to do our best to work with him. It is a bit early to judge if he's up to it or not but we just need to hang in there."
Nonetheless, New Zealand were eager to save face after conceding 44 points and being nilled the previous week, and they stormed into a 12-0 lead in Wigan with barely 11 minutes gone thanks to debutant Chase Stanley and Whatuira.
The Lions were unable to respond until the 32nd minute when James Graham - who captains the Lions in 2019 - powered his way over for a converted try, followed by centre Senior grabbing an unconverted score and David Hodgson crossing on the stroke of half time to put the hosts 14-12 up at the break.
Scrum-half Burrow, who won the George Smith medal as player of the series, extend the lead with a converted try after the restart, along with kicking the extras for Leeds Rhinos team-mate Danny McGuire's try and adding a penalty to seal the win.
Stanley's second try and a late score from Taniela Tuiaki kept it close at 28-22, but there was to be no denying the Lions as the team signed off from the international stage in the perfect fashion, with the future emphasis being placed on the individual nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
It marked the end of an era - something which was not lost on the Great Britain players.
"For lads like me growing up and lots more before that international rugby league has always meant Great Britain, and that white shirt with the big red and blue V," prop Morley said.
"To be part of the last Great Britain side to play at home is very special to me."
- This would be the last time the Great Britain team played Test rugby for 12 years, with plans for a southern hemisphere tour in 2012 being shelved.
- Kemble resigned as New Zealand head coach in January 2008. Stephen Kearney took over, with Bennett working alongside him in an advisory role.
- Smith took over as England head coach, resigning following a 46-16 defeat to Australia in the 2009 Four Nations final.
- The Kiwis got their revenge the following year by beating England 32-22 in the semi-finals of the World Cup, going on to lift the trophy for the first time after a 34-20 win over hosts Australia in the final.