There’s a series up on Sportsfreak right now (Looking Back) dedicated to sporting memories. We’ve naturally all got loads but thanks to one of Sky Sports’ nice dips into the archives, on this occasion from 1996, I think I’ve found one for me that pushed all the right buttons.
Firstly, here’s the home team that took the field (it was on Athletic Park): Cullen, Wilson, Bunce, Little, Lomu, Mehrtens, Marshall, Z Brooke, Kronfeld, I Jones, R Brooke, M Jones, Brown, Fitzpatrick, Dowd. When that team came up on the screen I realised I was watching one of the greatest All Blacks sides of all-time. It was the 1996 Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup test versus the dastardly Wallabies.
If that All Blacks line-up had access to all the scientific developments across professional sport now, I’m pretty confident no other team could live with them for very long (except maybe France- on one of their almost unexplainably amazing days they have in rugby every 15-20 years or so- usually against us). And South Africa of 2019 World Cup vintage- but only if the Boks got parity in the forwards.
The Wallabies passed the ball around in a couple of drills in between trying not to seize up from the biting cold during the Haka. But they might have reconsidered in hindsight. Because as John Eales related in his documentary on the Haka a bit over a year ago- his team were almost condemned from that second on.
And I almost doubt if Jonah just about ever played a better match- apart from a certain 1995 World Cup semi-final (Sydney in 1995 was also another tour de force). Every time the big guy got the ball on Athletic Park he headed straight into a cluster of frozen Wallabies, sucking the life out of them like a boxer getting constantly pounded in the midriff.
And the handling; wow that was something else. I’ve hardly seen teams pass and catch the ball that well before even in DRY weather. Most of the tries were stupendous for the conditions. In the ‘60s, before Fred Allen almost overnight changed the way the All Blacks played, and in conditions much more agreeable than that day on Athletic Park in ‘96, test teams used to just plug the touchlines and convene for lineout after lineout. Take a look at the full coverage from some really old videos and you’ll see.
Another recollection, but nothing to do with the actual action of the game, was the girlfriend I had at the time. She happened to be one of those people who was derisive of almost every thing about sport- in light of that it’s practically a miracle we lasted as long as we did (about a year).
About every five minutes ‘Debsy’ (a slight variation on her real name) would proclaim “Oh look at all those silly men running around after the ball. Really, what’s the point…why don’t they just give them all one each.” This refrain repeated about five times got very, very tiresome as you might imagine. We were at my parents’ home watching it and I think my father may have asked me to either ask her to be quiet at halftime or get out. And fair enough.
At least unlike my aunt about ten years before that, Debsy didn’t ask which colour New Zealand were playing in; on that occasion we weren’t even playing at home against Scotland with the change of jerseys. There was absolutely no excuse for that sacrilege…
In any case, that 1996 Athletic Park test match against Australia- mark it down as one of the greatest All Blacks’ performances of the last century.
@pm_spotter/ email@example.com (Paul)