Great tries: The spectacular and courageous

John Kirwan fends off the French defence in the 1987 final.
Photo / John Stone
John Kirwan fends off the French defence in the 1987 final. Photo / John Stone

Mention John Kirwan and World Cup tries, and the automatic response will almost certainly be on the 85m run in which he beat several defenders in the 1987 tournament against Italy at Eden Park.

It has become the signature try of Kirwan's career.

But spectacular as that try was, it probably wasn't the best individual effort he managed in 1987. Kirwan himself has always rated a similar try he scored a few weeks earlier for Auckland against Queensland as superior, because it was against better players.

And if just one criterion was simply courage and commitment, then another try Kirwan scored in the 1987 World Cup was equally memorable. That was in the final, also at Eden Park, when the All Blacks became the first holder of the Webb Ellis Trophy, with a 29-9 win over France.

Kirwan's try came immediately after one scored by David Kirk. From the kickoff, Kirk burst clear from a ruck and when he was checked, Buck Shelford scooped up the ball to send Kirwan charging to the corner.

The added distinction to the Kirwan try became evident later: Kirwan was battling a painful hamstring injury which ruled him out of a number of subsequent matches.

One of the All Blacks' coaching staff was John Hart, the man who had promoted Kirwan from the third grade into his Auckland side in 1983. If he had any doubts about Kirwan as a great wing, they were removed by that try and the bravery he had shown.

"One of JK's great qualities was his ability to stand in a tackle and off-load to someone else to score a try," Hart says. "But with that try he had to do a lot of work himself and beat a number of defenders, showing that he was also an outstanding finisher."

The try also vividly illustrated the style and strategies of the 1987 All Blacks - the ball being moved wide accompanied by plenty of support players such as the loose forwards to add to the attacking options. Hart notes that immediately on Kirwan's inside was blindside flanker Alan Whetton.

As a reflection perhaps of the impact Hart's Auckland sides of 1982-86 had on the 1987 All Blacks, all points in the final were scored by Aucklanders: Kirk, Kirwan, Michael Jones' try in the first spell and the 17 points from the boot of Grant Fox.

Ten of the playing XV in the final were from Auckland, plus Shelford, who had been an Auckland player up until 1984. But Hart says some of the methods of the other outstanding provincial side of the time, Canterbury, had also been adopted.

Kirwan is always asked about that try he scored against Italy in the opening game.

"It is turning out to be as famous as the try Gareth Edwards scored for the Barbarians against the All Blacks. It came about as a result of me getting my training spot on and having a go. I got the ball from Foxy and had a crack.

"What I really remember is how well Michael Jones played in that test. Wow."

Great tries:
1960: 1960: Peter Jones vs South Africa
1971: Ian Kirkpatrick vs British and Irish Lions
1987: John Kirwan vs France
1995: John Lomu vs England
1997: Christian Cullen v Australia
2000: Jonah Lomu v Australia
Tries against the All Blacks

- NZ Herald

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