New Zealand. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
AN extraordinary comeback from 18-7 down in a spellbinding match gave warning that Great Britain will pay dearly if they underestimate New Zealand at Wembley on Saturday.
Four tries in an inspired half-hour spell at the end of yesterday's match transformed it from a commentary on some earlier defensive frailties into a ringing endorsement of the Kiwis' expansive style of play. With such a wealth of instinctive ability in the side, they can embarrass any opposition.
An interception picked up by Sean Hoppe, their outstanding wing, in the 50th minute was the turning point. Wigan were pressing for the try that would surely have put them beyond recall, but Hoppe went 90 yards to open up the game once more.
Gene Ngamu, kicking for the injured Daryl Halligan, put New Zealand within five points and Gary Freeman, showing his ability to put a man through, set up Whetu Taewa to cut the deficit to one.
In the most compelling passage, Stephen Kearney, Duane Mann and Freeman were all stopped on the line. Frano Botica saved one try with a tackle on Ngamu and another by flooring Iva Ropati. This time, however, Freeman saw that the defence was short- handed on the right and scurried across to send in Hoppe.
For good measure, Jason Mackie then added a soft try in injury time to embellish a win that looked most unlikely half an hour earlier.
The Kiwis had opened the scoring with a Halligan drop goal. But a convoluted try - involving a sizzling Shaun Edwards break, a kick back downfield by Freeman, a pick-up by Andrew Farrell and a thrust for the line by Gary Connolly, Denis Betts and Edwards - put Wigan ahead.
The unilateral suspension by Robin Whitfield of many of the niggling little rules that often interupt the flow of play contributed to a breathless spectacle. An exquisite ball out of the tackle by John Lomax - memo to Great Britain, watch this man - produced a converted try for Ngamu, but Wigan seemed to take control when Neil Cowie and Martin Hall exposed weak tackling near the line for tries either side of half-time.
But Wigan were subjected to the sort of response that made them look ragged and ordinary. One player exempt from any criticism, though, was Jason Robinson, whose cool head under considerable pressure must surely have won him a place in the Test side when it is named today.
The New Zealand coach, Howie Tamati, said that the match had made his selection decisions for Wembley more difficult. The indications are that he will put his trust in the 19-year-old Ngamu at stand- off and that Morvin Edwards will recover from flu and Halligan from a bruised hip in time to play full-back and left wing respectively.
Brent Stuart, who went off with a neck injury, is a bigger worry. But Tamati's front-row options still look greater than Great Britain's.
Wigan: Lydon; Robinson, Bell, Connolly, Panapa; Botica, Edwards; Gildart, Hall (Dermott, 52), Cowie (Mather, 45), Betts, Farrell, Clarke.
New Zealand: Halligan (Donnelly, 42); Hoppe, Ropati, Taewa, Williams; Ngamu, Freeman; J Lomax, Mann, Stuart (Lowrie, 52), Kearney, Piva (D Lomax, 45), Mackie.
Referee: R Whitfield (Widnes).
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