In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.
The New Zealand Barbarians aren’t exactly a team we’re used to seeing on the global stage, with their red kit and general lack of fixtures over the years.
But, this week marks 20 years since they defeated Jack Rowell’s England at Twickenham, and the first chance those on English soil got the chance to watch a young talent by the name of Christian Cullen in action.
November 30, 1996
A few days before this outing at Twickenham the NZ Barbarians had defeated ‘The North’ of England by an alarming score of 86-0, a catastrophic mis-match that those heading to south-west London expected not to repeated.
The fixture was arranged to mark the 125th anniversary of the RFU, with England’s side featuring a mixture of the players who had played in the 1991 Rugby World Cup final and those who would go on to ultimately lift the trophy in 2003 in Martin Johnson, Simon Shaw, Jason Leonard, Mark Regan, Andy Gomarsall, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mike Catt.
And while the NZ Barbarians might not have been playing in All Black, they packed great presence – Jonah Lomu and Cullen, a half-back combination of Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens too, all led by Sean Fitzpatrick at hooker with Michael Jones providing support in the back row.
Three penalties from Catt helped England to cancel out Robin Brooke’s try, the score at half-time resting at 9-8.
A break from Mehrtens however changed the momentum of the match, swooping on loose ball and dancing his way through the English defence before finding Andrew Blowers who raced away for the visitors’ second try.
John Sleightholme hit back for England with his third try in three games, finishing in the corner after a well-worked attack orchestrated by Gomarsall.
A Catt up-and-under then led to England’s second try, Will Carling supplying the final pass to Stimpson, putting the hosts ahead 19-13 and seemingly in control of the game.
Mehrtens’ second penalty closed the gap as New Zealand brought on their dangerous replacement Carlos Spencer to try and turn the tide, which he did by levelling the scores at 19-19 with another three points.
Spencer struck again after England strayed offside before his moment of magic, carving through England’s defence and rounding Stimpson for an exceptional solo try that put the result out of reach.
A wide pass to Lomu rounded things off, bundling Sleightholme and Stimpson out of his way, and although England regained possession Gomarsall’s charged-down kick sent the ball back the Barbarians way, finishing with a try in the corner for Joeli Vidiri to put the seal on the victory.
Tries: Sleightholme, Stimpson
Pens: Catt 3
For New Zealand:
Tries: Brooke, Blowers, Spencer, Vidiri
Pens: Mehrtens 2, Spencer 2
England: 15 Tim Stimpson, 14 John Sleightholme, 13 Will Carling, 12 Phil de Glanville (c), 11 Adebayo Adebayo, 10 Mike Catt, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Chris Sheasby, 7 Lawrence Dallaglio, 6 Tim Rodber, 5 Simon Shaw, 4 Martin Johnson, 3 Jason Leonard, 2 Mark Regan, 1 Graham Rowntree
New Zealand Barbarians: 15 Christian Cullen, 14 Joeli Vidiri, 13 Alama Ieremia, 12 Lee Stensness, 11 Jonah Lomu, 10 Andrew Mehrtens, 9 Justin Marshall, 8 Taine Randell, 7 Andrew Blowers, 6 Michael Jones, 5 Robin Brooke, 4 Ian Jones, 3 Olo Brown, 2 Sean Fitzpatrick (c), 1 Mark Allen
Referee: Clayton Thomas (Wales)