A low-scoring draw in a Test match that was played in incessant rain may not be high on most people’s lists of great Lions fixtures but for sheer togetherness and camaraderie, the second Test against the All Blacks on the 1908 tour takes some beating.
SETTING THE SCENE
Even before the Lions left for New Zealand, the third British and Irish touring party to visit the country was at a significant disadvantage. Having fallen to a series defeat to South Africa in 1903 and lost a one-off international against the All Blacks a year later with a full compliment of tourists selected from all four Home Unions, the 1908 Lions were restricted to just Anglo-Welsh players.
After the Scottish and Irish Rugby Unions refused to support the tour, the Lions left with for Australia and New Zealand with a squad of 28 players selected solely from English and Welsh clubs or universities.
Captained by Arthur ‘Boxer’ Harding, the Lions started well in Australia but struggled to make an impression when they crossed the Tasman. The Lions would finish the New Zealand leg of their tour with nine wins, seven loses and a draw from their 17 fixtures.
The only bright spark of a 2-0 series defeat to the All Blacks was this heroic second Test draw, sandwiched between two heavy losses against an All Black side that had been beaten just once in 11 internationals since 1903.
NEW ZEALAND 3 LIONS 3
Half-time: 0-0 Venue: Wellington Attendance: 10,000
Scorers: Lions: Try – JP ‘Ponty’ Jones; New Zealand: Pen – Francis
Looking to make amends for their first-test thumping, the Lions made a total of six personnel changes and a substantial alteration in formation for the second international.
In the pack, Oldham and Jackson both dropped out of the front row, with the latter being called home to England on the eve of the match to face charges of professionalism.
Dibble switched from hooker to flanker, with Down moving from lock to hooker, while Kyrke and Ritson joined Oldham and Jackson on missing out on selection completely.
Hind and Smith came in at loose-head and tight-head prop, with E. Morgan called up to the second row.
In a switch that would never be seen in the modern game, Gibbs transferred from his first-Test position of left wing to the back of Lions pack. However, unlike today’s formation of a No8 packing down behind two locks and an openside and blindside flanker, Gibbs was employed as a ‘rover’ in an attempt to combat a New Zealand formation that had brought seven tries in the opening Test.
Halfbacks Laxon and Davey were dropped in favour of W.L Morgan and J.P. ‘Tuan’ Jones as Lions team manager G.H Harnett and squad captain Harding continued the changes behind the scrum.
With Gibbs named in the rover position, McEvedy came in on the wing but the rest of the threequarters and the full back had all played in the first-Test humiliation at Carisbrook.
J.P. ‘Ponty’ Jones, the brother of ‘Tuan’, continued in the centres alongside England international Vassall, with Williams and Jackett retained on the right wing and at full back respectively.
The Jones brothers were star performers for the Lions throughout the tour. The siblings formed an exciting midfield partnership in the No10 and 12 shirts, with the pair being at the heart of the Lions’ most-creative rugby.
Two of five former Christ College Brecon pupils in the touring party, the Jones’ were part of a backline nicknamed the ‘chain of British fliers’ by the New Zealand press. It was a backline that posed significant threat to the All Blacks but that had rarely received enough ball from the Lions forwards in earlier fixtures, although that changed significantly during this second Test.
Only four of the forwards in the touring party had international honours prior to departure because, as was often the case in the early years of Lions tours, a number of leading players had been unavailable for selection or had turned down invitations to travel.
Of the starting XV in New Zealand’s Windy City, Gibbs, Williams and Harding had all played for Wales in their famous 3-0 victory against the 1905 All Blacks, while Jackett had been part of the England team that had been beaten 15-0 by the same side.
Following their huge first-Test win, the New Zealand selectors went against the norm for the second game of the three-match series. Confident of securing a series victory with a match to spare, the All Blacks matched the Lions in making a number of changes to the side that had been so dominant in Dunedin three weeks earlier.
Six new caps were introduced, two of whom never appeared for their country again. Gray, Burns, Hamilton, Reedy, Murray and Paterson all made their international debuts, with forwards Hamilton and Murray not selected for any future Test matches.
Despite the slight arrogance of New Zealand’s selection, the size of the task facing the Lions should not be underestimated. Although the All Blacks made changes in personnel, they still fielded an impressive line up – a line up that the New Zealand public fully expected to comfortably defeat a Lions side presumed to be low on confidence and resigned to another heavy loss.
New Zealand: W Wallace (Wellington); D Cameron (Taranaki), F Mitchinson (Wellington), J Hunter (Taranaki, captain), F Fryer; G Gray, P Burns (all Canterbury); P Murray (Wanganui), W Reedy, A Wilson (both Wellington), W Cunningham, A Francis (both Auckland), A Paterson (Otago), C Seeling (Auckland), D Hamilton (Southland)
Lions: E Jackett (Falmouth); JL Williams (Cardiff), H Vassall (Oxford University), JP ‘Ponty’ Jones (Pontypool), P McEvedy; JP ‘Tuan’ Jones (both Guy’s Hospital), W Morgan (London Welsh); T Smith (Leicester), P Down (Bristol), G Hind (Guy’s Hospital), R Dibble (Bridgewater and Albion), H Archer (Guy’s Hospital), E Morgan (Swansea), A Harding (London Welsh, captain), R Gibbs (Cardiff)
Referee: Mr A Campbell (Auckland)
For the Lions, it was the sheer competitiveness of their performance that made this Test such a special and memorable occasion.
The weather may have prevented both sides from playing an expansive game, but it was the Lions who adapted better to the conditions in front of them.
While the forwards ran hard with ball in hand, the likes of Jackett and ‘Ponty’ Jones produced some booming clearance kicks to keep the All Blacks pegged back territorially.
After New Zealand full back Wallace had missed his second shot at goal, the Lions came close to claiming the game’s opening try in the latter part of the first half. The visitors crossed the New Zealand try line but were unable to touch the ball down successfully.
After their disappointment of missing out on a try-scoring opportunity, the Lions kept their heads held high and dominated the remainder of the first period. The All Blacks were forced to defend desperately until the half-time whistle, with the Lions unfortunate not to take a lead of some sorts into the interval.
The second 40 minutes was an equally tight affair, with both sides scoring early in the half.
The All Blacks were first to put points on the board courtesy of a penalty from Francis – a front five forward.
New Zealand’s right wing Cameron was the catalyst for the score, running back a Lions clearance with real enthusiasm before kicking ahead and engaging Jackett in a foot race. The Lions full back won the chase but Cameron had earned the hosts a five-metre scrum from which the Lions were duly penalised.
The Lions showed their character, however, as they hit back almost immediately after the restart. This time, it was the Lions who kicked ahead, with ‘Ponty’ Jones reaching the ball first to touch down under the posts.
With the scores level at 3-3, the Lions looked set to move ahead with the conversion attempt still to come. Unfortunately for the visitors, what would ordinarily have been a straightforward effort was made far more difficult by the conditions. The ball was already soaked through, rendering it not only greasy but incredibly heavy, and Harding failed to get it sufficiently airborne.
Both Vassall and McEvedy were forced to leave the field for a few minutes mid-way through the half after brave defensive work in front of a rampaging Kiwi pack. Luckily for the Lions, both players returned to the action.
The Lions kept up the pressure for the remainder of the match, staying pinned in the All Blacks 22 for large periods. However, the New Zealand defence somehow held firm and the Lions were forced to accept an unexpected draw rather than an heroic victory.
WHAT THEY SAID
RH Chester and AC McMillan (authors of Men in Black)
"The result shocked rugby followers who expected New Zealand to score another easy win.
"The visitors were very unlucky not to win and, in fact, they gained a moral victory, scoring a try to a penalty goal.
"The game was played in a sea of slush and although bright back play was out of the question, there was an interesting struggle between two hard-working packs. The home pack was outplayed by the visitors, especially in the scrums.
"The Anglo-Welsh played well above themselves."
THE LIONS IN WELLINGTON:
The Lions have played 29 fixtures in Wellington, with the city featuring as a venue on every single one of the Lions’ 12 tours to New Zealand.
11 of those matches have been Tests, with the Lions winning only twice in 11 attempts against the All Blacks in Wellington. The draw in the second international in 1908 has only been bettered by the vitories achieved by the 1971 and 1993 squads.
The Lions’ last outing is a prime example of how difficult the tourists have found it to face New Zealand in the Windy City, with Sir Clive Woodward’s men being hammered 48-18 in 2005.
P 29 W 16 L 11 D 2
1888: Wellington 3 Lions 3
H Roberts XV 1 Lions 4
1904: New Zealand 9 Lions 0
1908: Wellington 19 Lions 13
New Zealand 3 Lions 3
1930: Wellington 12 Lions 8
NZ Maori 13 Lions 19
New Zealand 22 Lions 8
1950: Wellington 6 Lions 12
New Zealand 6 Lions 3
NZ Maori 9 Lions 14
1959: Wellington 6 Lions 21
New Zealand 11 Lions 8
NZ Juniors 9 Lions 29
1966: Wellington 20 Lions 6
New Zealand 16 Lions 12
NZ Juniors 3 Lions 9
1971: Wellington 9 Lions 47
NZ Universities 6 Lions 27
New Zealand 3 Lions 13
1977: New Zealand 16 Lions 12
Wellington 6 Lions 13
NZ Juniors 9 Lions 19
1983: Wellington 19 Lions 27
New Zealand 9 Lions 0
1993: NZ Maori 20 Lions 24
New Zealand 7 Lions 20
2005: Wellington 6 Lions 23
New Zealand 48 Lions 18