A mighty 80-minute effort from minnows Scotland has seen them snatch a dramatic late draw against New Zealand at Zebra Claims Stadium in Workington.
The impressive Bravehearts struggled to make the most of their many first-half opportunities to trail 6-4 at the break but with the howling wind at their backs in the second half, the masterful kicking game of Scotland five-eighth Danny Brough caused New Zealand no shortage of headaches in the second.
They snatched the lead for the first time in the match with a 70th-minute Brough penalty goal before two late – and crucially, unconverted – New Zealand tries looked to have sealed the deal.
But a late miracle try to Dragons centre Euan Aitken and clutch conversion from Brough sent the Bravehearts in to raptures with a historic draw.
Another inconsistent game from New Zealand half Shaun Johnson – in which he was chiefly responsible for the Kiwis again struggling with last-play options – was dotted with a few moments of brilliance to help create a couple of New Zealand’s tries. However he looked as confused as everyone else was when he was awarded the man of the match award with Brough clearly the standout performer from the game.
The draw means the Kiwis sneak into the final if Australia beat England in the final group game, with England simply needing a win to join the Aussies (who now can’t miss the final) at Anfield next Sunday.
A committed first 40 from the Bravehearts saw them trail by just 6-4 at the break and if anything probably deserved to have the lead after defending their tryline impressively and asking plenty of questions of the New Zealanders.
They were running into the teeth of a fearsome wind as well as a tough Kiwi defensive line yet still held 54 per cent of the ball and, through a combination of poor offloading choices from their opponents and a couple of fortuitous six-again chances, had no shortage of opportunities at the black and white line.
Despite being by far the better team in the opening 20 minutes, a one-on-one miss from centre Kane Linnett on Tohu Harris allowed the back-rower to send debutant winger David Fusitu’a over for the night’s opening four-pointer in the 24th minute.
Not long after, a brilliant grubber from fullback Lachlan Coote and an equally impressive grounding by winger Lewis Tierney got the Bravehearts on the board. Danny Brough’s attempted sideline conversion came within inches of levelling up despite the buffeting winds.
With the howling wind now at his back rather than in his face, Scotland pivot Brough put his masterful kicking game to work, guiding over a 40/20 just moments into the second half to give the Bravehearts an early attacking set.
An inspirational defensive play from Scotland, bundling Fusitu’a into touch after a wonderful kick and kick-chase in the 50th minute, proved they weren’t set for a second-half collapse. When debutant Joe Tapine was penalised in possession shortly after for a swinging arm on Addy that led to a push and shove, you got the sense the Kiwis were rattled.
The Kiwis hung on and when a short kick fortuitously landed in Fusitu’a’s lap New Zealand surged downfield. The debutant bagged his second try a few plays later from a regulation overlap to make it 10-4 with 25 minutes to play.
As they did after conceding the opening try tough, Scotland hit back.
From nothing, a Coote cut-out pass sent Tierney into open space and he found Ben Hellewell in support. Despite having any number of support runners to choose from, the back-rower chose to put a show-and-go on fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and strolled over for the level-up try.
With the match suddenly anyone’s for the taking, hooker Liam Hood – for the second time in the game – produced a cheeky play, deliberately passing into an opposition player in the ruck from dummy half to draw a penalty. Brough nailed the tricky penalty goal to put Scotland up 12-10 with 10 minutes to play.
The Kiwis weren’t finished though; some positive play got them in range and Johnson set up a repeat set before a rampaging run from lock Greg Eastwood set the scene for Gerard Beale’s four-pointer to put his team back in front by two.
Needing something special in the final five minutes to cause a boilover, Scotland instead conceded another quick try. It came from some great work in the ruck from Issac Luke to send Shaun Johnson into space and some clever ball movement eventually finished with Beale’s second try in almost as many minutes.
Luke again missed from the touchline leaving Scotland with the unlikely task of finding a converted try in the final three minutes to snatch a draw.
‘Unlikely’ wasn’t in Scotland’s vocabulary through and with a chance near the Kiwis’ line they opted to run it on the last and when centre Euan Aitken beat two men to score it handed Brough a tricky conversion to level the scores.
When Brough’s ice-cold effort curled back between the posts his celebration was something to behold and Scotland then hung on for the final few plays before full-time to steal a historic draw.
New Zealand Kiwis (Fusitu’a 2, Beale 2 tries; Luke goal) drew with Scotland Bravehearts 18 (Tierney, Hellewell, Aitken tries; Brough 3 goals) at Zebra Claims Stadium. Crowd: 6628