The Kiwis head to England for Saturday’s match with Leeds and a three-test series. Tours to the Northern Hemisphere have changed markedly over the past few decades — in 1980 the Kiwis played 21 matches in England and France, spread over more than two months — but they retain a special magic. Michael Burgess looks back at some memorable moments since the first Kiwis tour of the modern era.

1. 1989 - Three players thrown in jail

Three Kiwis, a Spanish jail and a posse to break them out. It sounds like something out of the Wild West, and it kinda was.

The drama unfolded when the team took a side trip to the Spanish resort of Lloret de Mar during the French leg of the tour. The players hit the town and during the evening a group of them were almost struck by a car at a pedestrian crossing.

Assistant coach James Leuluai, coach Gary Kemble and captain Roy Asotasi. Photo / NZPA
Assistant coach James Leuluai, coach Gary Kemble and captain Roy Asotasi. Photo / NZPA

"It was a near miss, a very near miss," said Hugh McGahan. "The players chased the car down the street, then ran after him as he went into a building. Unfortunately they didn't realise the driver had gone into the local police station. The cops then came out, more of our boys turned up and all hell broke loose. The language barrier didn't help and it was a resort town - they had a lot of British tourists - and tended to hit first and ask questions later. They got stuck into the boys."


Three of the group - Darrell Williams, Wayne Wallace and Phil Bancroft - who were admittedly a little worse for wear, were singled out and thrown behind bars for drunk and disorderly behaviour.

Management returned to the station the next morning, only to be told the three amigos had been moved to another town. The team bus headed there and a short standoff ensued.

"It must have been quite a sight," said McGahan. "Our whole team, all dressed in their gear, turning up to surround the local police station."

After the explanations had finally got through, the players were released upon payment of a fine, with no further sanctions from the New Zealand Rugby League.

"I don't think it was a fun experience for them," laughs McGahan. "And they never hear the end of it. We still remind them to this day."

2. 1993 - Howie Tamati's bombshell

A decision still hard to fathom more than two decades later. With the Kiwis 2-0 down in the series and desperate for a face-saving win, coach Howie Tamati axed skipper Gary Freeman for the final test. It hadn't been a great tour but Freeman, who had played a record 37 consecutive tests, wasn't solely to blame. In his place, Canterbury halfback Aaron Whittaker had an uneasy debut, making some basic errors as the Kiwis lost 29-10 - the first whitewash in Britain since 1951-52. "I didn't believe I could win with Gary," insisted Tamati after the match. "It didn't come off but I believe the decision I made gave us a chance, whereas before we had no chance."

3. 1985 - Crooks is the thief


A closely fought series went down to the wire, with Great Britain prop forward Lee Crooks the unlikely hero for the home side. He kicked a 79th-minute penalty from the sideline - after Gary Prohm had been dubiously penalised - to tie the third test 6-6 and draw the series 1-1. The Kiwis were hammered 18-7 in the penalty count, with the local touch judges taking every opportunity to come onto the field and report New Zealand indiscretions.

4. 2007 - Roy Asotasi's confession

This tour was a disaster and reached its nadir when captain Roy Asotasi publicly declared his doubts about new coach Gary Kemble. Under Kemble, the Kiwis had lost 58-0 to Australia in Wellington before consecutive test losses (20-14 and 44-0) to England. Asotasi then failed to endorse his coach on the eve of the third test.

"Gary hasn't been coaching at this level and has no experience at National Rugby League or Super League level," said Asotasi. "He really has to work hard to try and make up. A lot of players have been coached by elite coaches. Gary's approach is a bit different and we are just trying to do our best to work with him. It is a bit early to judge if he's up to it or not but we just need to hang in there."

A week later - before the first test against France - Asotasi told the Herald on Sunday that the NZRL needed to scrap the rule that Kiwis coaches were based in New Zealand, talked up Stephen Kearney as a candidate and said Kemble "still has a lot to learn". Ouch.

Henry Fa'afili during the 2002 tour of Britain. Photo / PHOTOSPORT
Henry Fa'afili during the 2002 tour of Britain. Photo / PHOTOSPORT

5. 1998 - Kiwis make history

One of the finest moments in Kiwis' tour history. With the talents of Stacey Jones, Robbie Paul and Henry Paul to the fore, as well as the power of Quentin Pongia and Ruben Wiki, Frank Endacott's side were a joy to behold.

After winning the first test 22-16, they sealed the first series win since 1971 with a stunning 36-16 victory in the second test, reeling in a 16-6 halftime deficit with five tries in the second half.

6. 1980 - 'Amateur' Kiwis stun the Lions

The Kiwis were rank outsiders ahead of the 1980 tour. Great Britain had won seven of the last nine encounters and the New Zealand side was almost entirely domestic based, with Mark Graham the only overseas professional. But Ces Mountford's team defied the steep 6-1 odds against them to draw the first test 14-14 and win the second 12-8. The likes of Fred Ah Kuoi, James Leuluai, Dane O'Hara and Mark Broadhurst soon secured professional contracts.

7. 1989 - David Ewe sent home

Ewe, a mid-tour replacement, was sent home in disgrace after several alcohol-related indiscretions. It grabbed the headlines and was unfortunate for the sport and especially for Ewe. He had to serve a two-year ban from international league (harsh by modern standards) and never played for the Kiwis again.

"He was a shy, young guy suddenly in the spotlight and thrown in among some of his heroes," said McGahan. "He didn't really know how to handle it and tried to cover up his inhibitions through alcohol. There were a few incidents and, in the end, there was no choice."

8. 2002 - Constant crisis.

Anything that could go wrong, did, on this trip. Four players pulled out due to injury and off-season surgery before the team left, then coach Gary Freeman lost two more after arriving in England. Later Motu Tony and Robbie Paul were sidelined with injuries and in France Richard Swain left to sign a deal with the Broncos and Stephen Kearney flew home due to a family illness. The worst incident was the infamous Clinton Toopi episode, with the centre breaking his hand in a scuffle with Nigel Vagana during a team drinking session after the second test. Freeman and team management initially tried to cover up the incident, claiming the injury occurred during the match, before media found out and had a field day.

9. 1985 - Fiasco in Hull

The last match on the English leg of the 1985 tour turned into a farce, thanks to the antics of referee Jim Kershaw.

No less than five players were sent off in the first half - three Kiwis and two Hull players. It left a game of 10 versus 11 in the second spell, and three-man scrums. The Kiwis adapted better to the touch football-like scenario, prevailing 33-10.

10. 2002 - Henry's hat-trick

Wing Henry Fa'afili scored three tries in the 30-16 first test win over Great Britain at Ewood Park, the first Kiwis hat-trick against the Lions in 97 matches dating back to 1908.

His tries all came in the second spell as the Kiwis rallied from a 10-6 halftime deficit to win comfortably.