Published in Thirteen, 2005
2nd Ashes Test 1990
Great Britain v Australia
Manchester, November 10th 1990
“With today’s technology, they’d have pulled that back for the infringement. That loss deflated us after we’d got so close.” – Malcolm Reilly.
“That was the nearest we got to winning the Ashes. I sat in the changing rooms afterwards and just thought that sport was supposed to be enjoyable. It was the lowest I’d ever been in my life.” – Andy Gregory.
The first Test of the 1990 Kangaroo Tour had seen Australia’s brilliant unbeaten run of two consecutive tours stopped. A fired up British outfit had won 19-12 in front of a massive crowd of 54,569 at Wembly a fortnight earlier. Without the inspirational leadership of Wally Lewis and Peter Sterling, the Australians seemed lacklustre in front of a fired up Lions outfit. Great Britain coach Mal Reilly had his big guns Martin Offiah, Garry Schofield, Andy Gregory and the brilliant Ellery Hanley playing out of their skins.
Allan Langer had been dropped from the first test, a fate that Alfie was to experience again in 1994, and the Kangaroos’ two best from the first test, Brad Clyde and Brad Fittler, were out injured. The end result was that the Lions went to the second test at Old Trafford with their best chance to grab the Ashes in the last 20 years.
Australia handed the troubled five eighth spot to ageing test debutant Cliff Lyons, and Ricky Stuart slotted into half back. For coach Bob Fulton, and captain Mal Meninga, the threat of an Ashes series loss hung over them like a pall of smoke. The opening two minutes of the test did little to allay their fears. The British forwards took control early, and they almost scored when an around-the-corner pass from Schofield put second rower Paul Dixon over the line, only to be held up by Steve Roach and Gary Belcher. But the Kangaroos held on, and denied the home side any early points.
A deft pass from Roach to Benny Elias, in his debut Ashes test, saw the Balmain hooker scamper downfield, until swamped by Hampson’s cover defence. With the opposition back pedalling, Cliff Lyons darted from dummy half, and found Stuart in support. Laurie Daley trailed him, and then gave the ball to Dale Shearer, who raced 30 metres to the line, dummied to confuse Hampson, and scored. Meninga failed to convert, but a later Paul Eastwood goal saw the Kangaroos with a slender 4-2 lead at half time.
Shortly after half time, Great Britain struck back. In a replay of the first half near try, Schofield again put Dixon through a gap, but this time the Lions back rower pushed Belcher across the line for a try in the corner. Eastwood failed with the conversion, but the British were in front, 6-4.
It was Australia that responded to the score, and it was Elias and Lyons who led the way. Elias was in everything, from cheeky darts and clever ball work from dummy half, to brilliant front line defence. Even with any possible sign of a fight, Elias was there at his niggling best. Behind him, Lyons was the focus of every play, with his brilliant, unpredictable ball skills causing the Lions no end of trouble. The Kangaroo pack were willing to back them up, and Sironen and Lindner both were carving out fine games for themselves. For 28 minutes, the scores remained at 6-4, until the superior ball skills of the Kangaroos came to the fore. In one movement, Elias, Stuart and Lyons each handled twice in a sweeping movement which swing across the face of the British line like a pendulum. The ball had passed through 12 sets of hands before Andrew Ettingshausen, unable to slide past Martin Offiah, put in a cross kick. The kick was perfect, and bounced right on the Great Britain line, and into the arms of Cliffy Lyons. Up in the grandstand, Channel 10 commentator Greame Hughes was shouting to his Australian audience that the try would go down as the greatest test try of all. The sheer brilliance of it left the British fans, and their team, crestfallen. No one could ever top a try like that. How wrong they were. The last 15 minutes were to produce two tries that would virtually erase it from their memory.
Australia, with a 10-6 lead, were happy to control the final 15 minutes. They played with enough safety to frustrate the home side, but enough risk to enable them to set up victory. They played with confidence, and even cockiness, over a downhearted British side that had again given its all to come up short. However, in a dramatic flash, Stuart sent a long cut out pass toward Dale Shearer. The pass landed perfectly on the chest of the Lions’ replacement centre Paul Loughlin. The intercept immediately brought the big crowd to their feet, and as Loughlin raced the 60 meters to the tryline, it seemed as if the entire British Isles were in the stands cheering him on. The try tied the game up at 10-10, and Great Britain had a kick to come. The moment that had eluded them for 20 years had come: The Ashes were about to come home.
Under the weight of the huge responsibility, Loughlin balked at taking the all-important kick, being exhausted after the 50 metre run. A draw was no good for Britain. As challengers, they had to win to take the Ashes. A draw still favoured Australia. With this dilemma, Eastwood attempted the kick, and the big crowd fell silent as he approached. His kick was never going to make it. The score remained at 10-10.
It was Great Britain that took hold of the last 10 minutes, and they set up camp deep in Australia’s half, preying on a mistake. It was in the last minute of injury time that the break came, but not for the Lions. Ricky Stuart dummied past Lee Jackson, and found himself in a huge gap. With the defence closing, Meninga, in support, buffeted his way into position, and took the pass 10 metres out, and crashed over for what has subsequently become possibly the most replayed try in test history. Great Britain’s Ashes dream was crushed. Australia grabbed the game, 14-10.
Much has been made of Meninga’s try. It has been labelled as ‘the try that saved the Ashes’, but as Wally Lewis pointed out in the commentary box at the time, that wasn’t quite right. Whether Meninga had scored or not, the score would have been either 14-10 or 10-10. Either way, Britain would have needed to win the third Test to gain the Ashes. This misconception, while providing a wonderful fairytale for the media, has taken the gloss of the earlier try by Lyons. There has barely been a better one scored ever in a Test match anywhere.
Great Britain 10 (Dixon, Loughlin tries, Eastwood goal)
Australia 14 (Shearer, Lyons, Meninga tries, Meninga goal)
GREAT BRITAIN: Hampson, Eastwood, Gibson, Powell, Offiah, Schofield, Gregory, Platt, Jackson, Harrison, Betts, Dixon, Hanley (c). Subs: Edwards, Loughlin, Powell, Ward
AUSTRALIA: Belcher, Shearer, Meninga (c), Daley, Ettingshausen, Lyons, Stuart, Lazarus, Elias, Roach, Lindner, Sironen, Mackay, Subs: Alexander, Hasler, Cartwright, Sargent