Top matches of 2013 - 3: Kiwis snatch thrilling win

By Steven Holloway

Shaun Johnson scores for the Kiwis in their rugby league World Cup semi-final against England. Photo / Getty Images.
Shaun Johnson scores for the Kiwis in their rugby league World Cup semi-final against England. Photo / Getty Images.

With 30 seconds remaining in the rugby league World Cup semifinal, the Kiwis trailed England by four points and were down to their penultimate tackle. Their World Cup defence looked all but over.

But Shaun Johnson hadn't given up hope. The lightening quick Kiwi halfback, caught, stepped, accelerated and then touched down to level the scores before knocking over the conversion to produce one of the most dramatic finishes in New Zealand sport history.

It was the perfect end to what had been an absorbing contest worthy of the stage and venue. It was the best game of rugby league all year - better even than the recent Origin contests - and the Kiwis were able to withstand some incredible pressure.

The England pack were excellent, led by the impressive Sam Burgess, and dominated the rough and tumble. The Kiwis just couldn't seem to find their rhythm - which had a lot to do with the way England were playing - but the crucial thing is they hung in there and gave themselves a chance to win the match.

In the end, it took two pieces of individual magic for the Kiwis to win - firstly Dean Whare's amazing flick-pass while mid-air over the sideline for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score and then Shaun Johnson's jinking run at the death. Big plays from two players with big futures.

What they said:

Michael Brown (NZ Herald journalist)

There are some events or games that remind you why sport is so captivating. This was most definitely one of them.

Not only was it played in front of a big crowd at one of the world's iconic venues but it was also played under extreme pressure with a place in the World Cup final at stake. It would have still been a great match even if New Zealand had lost but it seemed fitting there was some late drama when Shaun Johnson snaked through the England defence with 20 seconds remaining to score. The silence at Wembley was astonishing. They had been a terrific crowd, roaring England to what they thought would be a famous victory, but immediately went quiet. They couldn't believe what had happened. Few could.

Fortunately as a Kiwi journalist working on the other side of the world in the early hours on a Sunday morning (NZT), the deadline pressures weren't particularly difficult. It didn't really matter if the story went on the website five minutes later than normal for a live report. It meant I could watch the drama unfold and appreciate what both sides had given to an extraordinary contest.

Ian Chadband of the Daily Telegraph

England, at the climax to a thunderous performance in an epic sporting collision, had been 50 seconds away from a World Cup final when they gave away a needless penalty and were 21 seconds away when they were undone by a missed tackle and a piece of inspirational opportunism from New Zealand's Kiwis. How the hell do you salvage 'the positives' from such utter deflation?

Yet English rugby league really had to. True, this really did feel, as one of the home try scorers Kallum Watkins conceded, as if a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had disappeared along with the chance to take on Australia on home soil in Manchester this weekend and to become world champions for the first time for 41 years.

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