Roundtable: The best offshore Kiwi sporting moments and matches

NZ Herald

If you had a time machine, what’s the one historic sports event that played out overseas you’d love to attend? Inspired by the illustrious events that have shaped New Zealand’s sporting history, this collective article is a mosaic of perspectives, where voices from our newsroom share their dream of attending a pivotal sporting moment not in Aotearoa. From nail-biting finishes to breathtaking performances, our contributors are bringing forth the essence of events that left an indelible mark on the Kiwi sporting landscape.

Cameron McMillan: The Invincibles earn their name

Stade des Ponts Jumaux, France, January 18, 1925

Time machine you say? Well, then I’m stuffing my pockets with old French francs and heading back to Toulouse, 1925, to join the reported 115 other journalists in attendance of the second meeting between the All Blacks and France.

The main reason - to see George Nepia’s “cold game”: 72 years before Michael Jordan famously led his Chicago Bulls to an NBA finals victory while stricken with influenza, Nepia started for the All Blacks after being bed-ridden with a bad cold day of the game. And he didn’t have the advanced medicine like MJ had at his fingertips.

It would be something to see Nepia in person along with the likes of Cliff Porter, Ces Badeley and the Brownlie brothers and compare them to their modern equivalents. This was the final test of the Invincibles tour in which the All Blacks beat Ireland, Wales and England across a five-month stretch when they played 32 matches.

It was a tough call between this game and the previous test in which the All Blacks had Maurice Brownlie sent off but still managed to win at Twickenham - however, the French test appears to have been a better display of 1920s rugby.

The fourth test at Stade Des Points Jumeaux by all reports was the best performance of the tour, with the All Blacks scoring eight tries to two.

And this was a big occasion in France - considering they had to wait 19 years since the two sides first met in Paris.

The Herald report says: “It is estimated that over 50,000 people had arrived in Toulouse from surrounding towns and villages to see the game. At least 10,000 were unable to find accommodation and walked the street all night.”

Sure the match might look more akin to a game of scrag than today’s rugby but it also won’t feature the thumping sounds of the hit song “Somebody Stole My Gal” after every break of play.

Clay Wilson: Cambo holds off the Big Cat

US Golf Open, 2005

The morning of Monday, June 20, 2005, won’t go down as one of the most productive across the workplaces of New Zealand, especially for those from the small Porirua suburb of Titahi Bay.

The reason why: a 36-year-old Kiwi boldly fighting off the pursuits of a big cat - and not just any big cat, the Big Cat - on one of world sport’s biggest stages.

Michael Campbell only made it to the 2005 US Open because he’d won a qualifying event in England. A decade prior, he’d been the 54-hole leader at The Open, but missed the playoff by one stroke. In the 10 years that followed, a tie for 12th at the 2000 US Open was as close as Campbell had got to contention at a major. He had come into the 2005 event in good form, his previous six starts on the European Tour netting four top-15 finishes. Still, no one could have predicted what was about to unfold on the No 2 course at the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Four shots back after round one, two adrift after day two, Campbell was again four back as the tournament moved into its final round. The day started in the little-known New Zealander’s favour. Birdie on the first, before those above him, including two-time champion Retief Goosen, stumbled out of the blocks and down the leaderboard. As he stood on the tee box of the par three sixth hole, Campbell all of a sudden had the lead.

But a Tiger was soon lurking, a man named Woods moving within one shot with a birdie at the 11th. If Campbell was going to falter, it was under pressure being applied by the game’s undisputed No 1. Instead, he produced the best back nine of his life.

Long-range birdie putts at 10 and 12 pushed his lead back out to three and, when another clutch putt from distance fell in at 17, he arrived at the tournament’s 72nd and last hole with that same margin on Woods. A tap-in bogey at the par four 18th was more than enough - Campbell raised his arms aloft and the tears began to flow. After years of toil, he’d become only the second Kiwi to win a golf major - joining the great Sir Bob Charles.

June 20, 2005. The day the boy from little old Titahi Bay, New Zealand held off a giant of the game.

Michael Campbell holding his US Open Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Michael Campbell holding his US Open Cup. Photo / Getty Images

Suzanne McFadden: Silver Ferns untouchable

1987 World Netball Championships, Glasgow

There’s never been a netball team like the untouchable world champion 1987 Silver Ferns.

Playing under driving summer rain on hard, red courts in Glasgow, Dame Lois Muir’s team were undefeated at the 1987 World Cup. No nation came within 10 goals of them.

When they lost five games to Australia in 1986, there were calls for Muir to be replaced; 13 years was too long in the job, her critics bayed. Yet in the year when it really counted, the Ferns had complete control of their closest rivals, especially in the finals round (in the days before there was a final match).

In one of the great defensive performances, Tracey Fear and Wai Taumaunu smothered the Australian Diamonds in the third quarter, allowing them a measly three goals, eventually winning 39-28. They then dished out the same treatment to England and Trinidad and Tobago.

In the grainy colour TV footage, you’ll see the flair in the air of wing attack Rita Fatialofa, the uncanny vision of centre Sandra Edge and the finesse and resolve of shooter Margaret Forsyth. But for all their individual brilliance, all 12 women played as a team - and they all “did it for Lois”. Unforgettable.

But the chant from New Zealanders in the crowd: “Better, better, better, better, better by far; Kiwis are, better by far”? Unbearable.

Luke Kirkness: A cruel tidal turn

San Francisco Bay, September, 2013

As the sun dipped below the Golden Gate Bridge, a spectacle unlike any other in the sailing world unfolded. Team New Zealand, with Dean Barker at the helm, faced off against Oracle Team USA in a winner-takes-all finale, marking the culmination of the longest, fastest and wildest America’s Cup in history.

In the initial skirmishes, the Kiwis showcased dominance, securing six wins to Oracle’s one. A design advantage and superior boat handling put Team New Zealand in the driver’s seat. However, the winds of fortune shifted, and Oracle, helmed by the tenacious Jimmy Spithill, found their second wind.

Oracle, docked two points for pre-regatta rule violations, faced the daunting task of winning 11 races to retain the Cup. The script seemed written when Team New Zealand reached match point at 8-1. Yet Oracle, spurred on by Spithill’s unyielding resolve, mounted an extraordinary comeback, winning eight straight races to seal a 9-8 victory.

In the deciding race, Oracle’s catamaran faced adversity early on as it buried its bows in a wave. Barker and Team New Zealand seized the opportunity, turning the first buoy with a seven-second lead.

But as Spithill rounded the third mark on to the downwind fourth leg, his catamaran sprang onto its hydrofoils at 56km/h, its hulls completely out of the water, and headed for history. A final sprint across the wind on the reaching fifth leg resulted in a 44-second victory.

Behind the scenes, the America’s Cup wasn’t just a battle of sailors but a clash of resources. Oracle’s vast budget, fueled by software billionaire Larry Ellison, transformed the competition into a technological arms race. Changes made to Oracle’s catamaran each night in their expansive boatshed played a pivotal role in their ultimate triumph.

As the champagne flowed and celebrations erupted on Oracle’s vessel, Team New Zealand grappled with a staggering loss. The saga, however, transcends the scoreline. Team New Zealand’s modest base, innovative spirit and unwavering determination embody the essence of Kiwi resilience.

In a brief, glorious week, David challenged Goliath - and for a moment, it seemed the fairytale could come true.

Jimmy Spithill's Oracle Team USA beat Team New Zealand in the 2013 America's Cup in what was one of sport's most remarkable comebacks. Photo / Photosport
Jimmy Spithill's Oracle Team USA beat Team New Zealand in the 2013 America's Cup in what was one of sport's most remarkable comebacks. Photo / Photosport

Heath Moore: All Whites’ first Fifa World Cup point

New Zealand v Slovakia, South Africa, 2010 FIFA World Cup

In the pandemonium of celebrating that 1-0 victory in Wellington against Bahrain, it felt as if the All Whites had reached their pinnacle when they qualified for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

After 28 long years, New Zealand was back on the biggest sporting stage - and you could forgive fans for believing participation in South Africa was a success.

Fielding a team sprinkled with amateurs, part-time footballers, a handful of A-League talent and a couple of overseas pros, the All Whites didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting a result against a Slovakian side swimming with top European talent.

Someone forgot to tell manager Ricki Herbert’s men that.

As the first half ended with the score locked at 0-0, the All Whites gave the travelling Kiwi fans, nicknamed the “White Noise”, a sense of hope that a shock result was on the cards.

But just five minutes into the second half, it appeared the footballing gods weren’t in the mood for a World Cup boilover as Slovakia took the lead off a clear offside goal. The linesman missed it, the referee missed it and Kiwi hearts around the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg were crushed.

As the clock struck the 93rd minute, the dead-and-almost-buried All Whites burst forward in what would be their last roll of the dice.

With millions of eyes watching on around the globe, Shane Smeltz lobbed in a speculative cross to the back post.

In that moment, 21-year-old defender Winston Wiremu Reid’s career changed forever as he rose above the pack to head it past the hapless Slovakian keeper to level the scores and with it give the All Whites their first-ever World Cup point.

Mike Lane: Nederburg’s smoke signals

Paarl, South Africa, 1994

The captain of that particular Black Caps tour was Ken “Rudders” Rutherford and at the time he quipped to the NZ Herald: “It was a minor aberration, blown out of proportion.” It is that minor aberration that I would have loved to have been a part of. Sure, New Zealand kicked off the tour with a historic first test victory in Johannesburg which cricket nerds would have been sliding off their seats about, but it’s the activities that unfolded over the Christmas/New Year that I would dearly loved to have been a part of.

Sure, it would have been pretty sweet to smoke South Africa’s finest in the leafy green vineyard of Nederburg with future Black Caps legends Stephen Fleming and Dion Nash but more importantly it would have been better to witness the unravelling of cowardice that followed that infamous day. Was Danny Morrison the King Rat who acted alone? Who hung Fleming, Nash and Hart out to dry (some of the youngest members of the squad), when it was made obvious they were not the only ones having a hoon on the “Nederburg Bud”?

Plus the cross-dressing party for New Year’s Eve looked even better than the vineyard smoke-up. Who thought South Africa could be so much fun?

Paul Lewis: A tale of triumph

Athens Olympics, 2004

She was only a little over 1.6m and 60kg, a vivacious woman but a ball of power and as focused as any athlete I have ever seen. Sarah Ulmer, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, rewrote the cycling record books in a display of individual dominance New Zealand sport had not seen since the days of Peter Snell.

Her event, the 3000m individual pursuit, is where two riders face off against each other on opposite sides of the track, essentially sprinting for 3km to either catch the other rider or beat their time. If you could compare it to an athletics event, maybe it would be the 800m - once a tactical race but now an exhausting extended sprint which generally predicates against a “kick” finish.

Ulmer, between May and August 2004, broke the world record three times - the last at the Athens Games when she beat Australia’s Katie Mactier in the final, reducing her world record (set first at the world championships in Melbourne in May) and then again in qualifying at Athens.

In the final, she finished in 3m 24.5s to win gold, breaking the record by almost two seconds in an event where they are normally only topped by fractions of a second, even over 3km. By the end of the Olympics, she had reduced the world record by six seconds over four months - a Herculean feat.

The final was also notable for an excellent piece of television. The director and/or cameraman cleverly sneaked the lens in among the feet of those holding an exhausted Ulmer on her bike, aiming up from underneath. It showed an elite athlete in severe oxygen debt - her breath coming in sob-like gasps so wracking it seemed she must faint. It was a compelling capture of what a gold medal costs.

That year, Ulmer was (reigning) Commonwealth champion, world champion and Olympic champion and, with that wholesale reduction of the world record, stood alone at the top of the world - helping light the fuse that has seen New Zealand cycling achieve international recognition on a broader scale since then.

Sarah Ulmer bounced back from disappointment in Sydney in 2000 to win Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 with a world record time. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sarah Ulmer bounced back from disappointment in Sydney in 2000 to win Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 with a world record time. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Christopher Reive: Stairmand defeats Goat

2011 Drug Aware Pro, Margaret River

A star-studded field took to the waters of Western Australia for the 2011 Drug Aware Pro at Margaret River, but it was Billy Stairmand who stole the show.

Drawn against reigning world champion Kelly Slater in the round of 24 at one of the prime events on the World Surf League’s qualifying series, 21-year-old Stairmand - referred to in an ESPN report as “virtually unknown” - used the greatest professional surfer of all time as a platform from which to make a name for himself.

Their Round of 24 heat was the second time in three heats the two had squared off, after Slater needed a late wave to progress in the top spot of their four-man heat, with Stairmand going through in second.

After trading similar waves early in ideal 3m conditions, Stairmand found himself in the perfect position to go on a clean left-hander, which stood up to offer two big sections for Stairmand to attack. With two big hits, the young Kiwi put a near-perfect nine on the board with about five minutes left in the heat.

What made the ride more impressive was the fact Stairmand had been able to take it despite Slater having priority, the American saying post-heat that he was probably a paddle out of position to be able to take it himself.

While the seconds were ticking away in the heat, Slater did get a chance to hit back as he tucked into a clean, but short, right-hand barrel before going to work on the face of the wave. His final turn, however, lacked the expected intent, and he scored an 8.00. The heat finished with a high-scoring line of 16.50 to 15.50, and Slater was eliminated from the competition.

Stairmand ultimately finished the event in ninth place.

Reflecting on the heat with the Between Two Beers podcast last year, Stairmand said it was a moment that “skyrocketed” his surfing career.

“I couldn’t believe it, honestly. I was out in the water tripping out. I couldn’t really hear much; I came into the beach and the crowd had actually known who I was now and everyone wanted to cheer me up the beach.

“It felt like I had won the competition.”

Kris Shannon: The night cricket changed forever

First IPL match, April 18, 2008

There were many questions in the air when Brendon McCullum strode to the middle of M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on April 18, 2008.

Would the Indian Premier League, launching that night, prove a success? Was Twenty20 cricket the way of the future? Could the Kolkata Knight Riders possibly produce cricket worthy of one of the coolest names in world sport?

With each vicious swing of his Slazenger bat, McCullum offered these increasingly emphatic answers: yes; unfortunately, yes; and, for one game at least, hell yeah.

McCullum, in typically inimitable McCullum style, ensured the fledgling IPL exploded to life, smashing 13 sixes and 10 fours in a scarcely believable innings of 158no from 73 balls.

That still stands tied as the seventh-highest score in the history of the format - tied with... B.B. McCullum - and granted instant legitimacy to a league that, for better or (generally) worse, now dominates the world cricket landscape.

The former New Zealand captain, who opened the innings with former India captain Sourav Ganguly, faced five balls in the first over while collecting a total of zero runs.

In the second over, bowled by Indian great Zaheer Khan, McCullum launched, cracking three fours and a six in the space of four deliveries.

The wicketkeeper would carry his bat against an attack that also featured South African legend Jacques Kallis, smearing his final six from the last ball of the innings.

He lifted the Knight Riders to a total of 222-3 - former Australia captain Ricky Ponting was the second-highest scorer with 20 - and sparked what would become a 140-run win on a transformative occasion for cricket and the man himself.

“I think back to the first-ever IPL game,” McCullum later said. “My life changed that night.”

Andrew Alderson: Pandemic perils and persistence

Tokyo Olympics, July 30, 2021

My ticket craving smacks of recency bias, but I regret being unable to report the New Zealand men’s rowing eight victory live from the Tokyo Olympics.

The spectre of Covid meant watching the race on telly at home rather than the surrounds of Sea Forest Waterway.

I often wonder what elements of the athletes’ sacrifice could’ve been gleaned on the ground.

The crew of Matt Macdonald, Shaun Kirkham, Phillip Wilson, Dan Williamson, Michael Brake, Tom Murray, Hamish Bond, Tom Mackintosh and coxswain Sam Bosworth achieved something many considered might never be repeated after the triumph of their 1972 predecessors at Munich.

On that occasion, New Zealanders in Kombi vans on their OEs flocked to watch an amateur system hold off the might of American and East German machines. As stroke Tony Hurt once recalled as they headed to shore: “Suddenly blokes came swimming out into the lake with cans of beer. Crikey, they went down well.”

The 2021 crew’s story might lack the same romance at the regatta with minimal crowds amid the pandemic’s embrace, but the challenges in the build-up were steep.

They included missing qualification at the 2019 World Championships in Austria by one place; getting sent away during Covid to win the “regatta of death” in Switzerland; and enduring four-hour-a-day erg sessions in quarantine accompanied by Zoom screens to record the mutual struggle.

Shaun Kirkham, who was part of the crew from 2013 to 2021, delivered a candid YouTube presentation detailing their adversity. He said the catalyst for change was younger crew members identifying a “cancerous culture” that had been unwittingly built by “finger-pointing, excuse-making and complaining”.

The result? A win by a third of a length and a place in the pantheon of legendary New Zealand Olympic feats. Oh, to have witnessed that.

Matt Macdonald (stroke), Shaun Kirkham, Phillip Wilson, Dan Williamson, Michael Brake, Tom Murray, Hamish Bond, Tom Mackintosh (bow) and Sam Bosworth (coxswain) celebrate at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo / Photosport
Matt Macdonald (stroke), Shaun Kirkham, Phillip Wilson, Dan Williamson, Michael Brake, Tom Murray, Hamish Bond, Tom Mackintosh (bow) and Sam Bosworth (coxswain) celebrate at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo / Photosport

Will Toogood: Steve Wooddin’s wonder goal

All Whites v China, 1982

After progressing through the first stage of qualification without a loss, the All Whites and China could not be separated by wins, points or goal difference after the second round. Thus, a playoff would decide who would take the 24th and last spot in the 1982 Fifa World Cup finals.

“We had played China twice and hadn’t lost to them,” said striker Steve Wooddin. “But they were pretty sharp. And there was so much at stake.”

China had some handy players, winger Gu Guangming later became the first Chinese footballer to play in Europe. Around 65,000 fans packed into Singapore National Stadium and it has been told you could almost count the New Zealand supporters on one hand.

The Kiwis started best and had several chances before Wooddin scored a wonder goal in the 24th minute to put New Zealand ahead 1-0 at halftime. Grant Turner, widely credited as being one of the toughest All Whites ever, said “John [Adshead] told us, ‘You are 45 minutes away from a dream. You have got it in your hands’.”

The dream started to become a reality just two minutes after the interval as it was Wynton Rufer’s turn for a wonder strike, blasting one into the net from 25 metres after a training ground move. The All Whites began to tire in the sapping heat and China pulled one back in the 74th minute but it wouldn’t be enough, the Kiwis had achieved one of the most remarkable feats in our sporting history.

As the players celebrated with the New Zealand fans in a corner of the stadium, jubilant assistant coach Kevin Fallon summed it up to a nearby journalist.

“The smallest nation in the world has beaten the biggest... magic.”

Jaxin Daniels: That glorious dummy

AAMI Park, Melbourne, September 24, 2011

Everyone knew it was a tough ask for the Warriors to go into Melbourne for a preliminary final and leave with a win. Even the faithiest of fans had their doubts about beating the top-of-the-table Storm at home. But little did we know, our prodigal sons would pull out one of the slickest rugby league plays the world has ever seen.

Going into halftime, the Warriors were miraculously leading 14-12. To everyone’s surprise, the second half would be scoreless until the 76th minute of the game when Shaun Johnson turned Kevin Proctor and Cooper Cronk into turnstiles.

Twenty metres out from the tryline, Johnson received a floating pass from Kevin Locke before he started elegantly drifting across the field. He led Proctor and Cronk across the field before Feleti Mateo cut hard on the dazzling Warriors No 7 and with that, orchestrated Cronk and Proctor to follow the dummy runner.

Johnson created a three-on-one opportunity with one of the prettiest dummies we have ever seen, and the rest is history. Lewis Brown crossed over and the Warriors had a six-point lead before a James Maloney conversion and the game was ours. A nation let out a collective cheer that day and we all thought it was our year.

We don’t have to talk about the following week - it wasn’t our year because this year is our year.

Winston Aldworth: Fitzy punches the turf

Springboks v All Blacks, Pretoria, 1996

The All Blacks had chased the ultimate offshore dream five times, the squads of 1928, 1949, 1960, 1970 and 1976 falling short in pursuit of a series win on African soil.

In 1996, they arrived in South Africa for one final charge at the pinnacle. There would be no more grand tours anywhere after this, no more midweek brawls against Griqualand West, Bridgend or French Presidents XVs - professional rugby and its need for a steady diet of bankable television fixtures put paid to all that.

We should be grateful that the last meaningful tour was against our greatest foe. A final chance to square the ledger.

This was the first time the All Blacks had played in South Africa with neither hometown referees nor dubious food hygiene playing a hand in the result. The whistler, Frenchman Didier Mené, wisely remained anonymous throughout the match. There were no Suzie sightings, no sideline chundering.

A try to Zinzan Brooke, another one from Jeff Wilson after a lovely break by Justin Marshall; Simon Culhane slotting the goals; of course, a Zinny droppie. Jon Preston, who hadn’t played a serious match at first five in a half-decade, came on as a late sub and banged over two glorious long-range penalties.

As the last whistle is about to blow, there’s a monstrous ruck on the All Blacks’ line; Boks halfback Joost van der Westhuizen screams for the ball. The whistle blasts: game over! The massive bodies peel away, and wrapped around the pill is the sweetly scarred frame of Sean Fitzpatrick. That ball was going nowhere, Joost.

Fitzy has an emotional moment, pounding his fist against the African soil. The continent knows who had the last laugh. Final score: 33-26. The results of five tours and the painful Rugby World Cup defeat of the year before have been settled.

When they arrived home, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jim Bolger, showing his flair for the forgettable, tried to coin a name for the team: The Incomparables. The Score-Settlers would have suited better.