Kiwis hold off Great Britain in brutal battle

Jahrome Hughes of the Kiwis looks for the offload while airborne. Photo: Getty Images
Jahrome Hughes of the Kiwis looks for the offload while airborne. Photo: Getty Images
Kiwis 12
Great Britain 8

Mark this down as a pivotal Kiwis moment in the Michael Maguire era.

His New Zealand side ground their way to a courageous 12-8 win over Great Britain at Eden Park on Saturday, in the second game of the triple header.

They lost Kieran Foran to injury after just five minutes, and had Kodi Nikorima as a late call-up at hooker, after Brandon Smith was stood down.

The Kiwis went out to a 12-2 lead early in the second half, then hung on, as the Lions dominated possession and territory.

A remarkable Kenny Bromwich tackle, who forced the ball loose from Jermaine McGillvary, as the Lions winger was diving over the line, saved the match with four minutes to play.

It wasn't pretty, or open, but was a brutal battle and an enthralling contest.

The Kiwis' preparations were compromised by the late withdrawal of Smith, following a breach of team protocol.

It meant that Nikorima made a rushed trip across the Tasman on Friday, before being thrown into the breach.

It was tough on Nikorima, who was on holiday in Brisbane when he got the call. He had been involved in the Rugby League World Cup Nines, but wasn't part of the squad for this series.

It's also a major setback for Smith, who had been impressive since coming onto the test scene, and had a fairytale debut this time last year against Australia at Mt Smart.

If that wasn't enough, there was further disruption with the injury to Foran after only five minutes.

Playing in just his second test match in four and a half years, Foran landed awkwardly after being third man in to tackle James Graham. It looked innocuous, but Foran was in agony as he got up, before being taken down the tunnel.

In front of a subdued atmosphere at the cavernous Eden Park, it was a tight first half. Neither side was inclined to take chances, and the defensive lines rarely buckled.

The Lions went close on either flank, with McGillvary stopped in a good tackle by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, and prop Alex Walmsley caused havoc with his size.

The Kiwis best chances came late in the half. Benji Marshall was put in the clear – but muffed his inside pass – while a Joseph Manu break and offload almost bore fruit. Manu, along with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, were the most threatening for the Kiwis, and the Warriors fullback sparked the game in life early in the second half.

A feint and change of pace saw him slip through two defenders, before a brilliant backhand flick pass, as he was tackled by fullback Johnny Lomax, sent Jamayne Isaako away. It was reminiscent of his last ditch play against the Eels at Bankwest Stadium, but this time the pass was ruled legal.

Briton Nikora went close minutes later, denied after the video referee found the finest of knock-ons, before Corey Harawira-Naera powered his way over for a crucial try in the 54th minute.

He looked well covered 10 metres out, but leg drive and determination saw him carry four defenders across the line.

The last 20 minutes were full of incident, sparked by a late hit by Joseph Tapine on James Graham. In the ensuing brawl punches were thrown and Tapine was probably lucky to avoid the sinbin.

Tuivasa-Sheck and John Bateman then locked horns, sparking another melee.

The New Zealand side were struggling to get out of their own territory, not helped by cheap errors by Marshall and Blair, and the pressure eventually told, with Daryl Clark scampering over following a Walmsley offload in the 68th minute.

McGillvary then looked set to tie the match up, before Bromwich's dramatic intervention.

New Zealand 12 (J Issako, C Harawira-Naera tries, Isaako 2 goals)
Great Britain 8 (A Walmsley try; G Widdop 2 goals)
Halftime: 2-2

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