I spoke to the Kiwi captain Ruben Wiki for Thirteen shortly before he flew to England to win the 2005 Tri-Nations. It’s not the longest interview as it was a terrible line and he had to get to training. They were his excuses anyway…!
Ruben, how are things shaping up for the rest of Tri-Nations?
Yes, not too bad. Things are coming together well and, of course, the win over Australia was a great start. I love going to England, mixing with the locals and catching up with a lot of the Kiwis over there but obviously, we can’t wait to get stuck into the football either.
Looking back over your test career, what do you remember of your early tests in 1994 and 1995?
I made my debut on the Kiwis tour of Papua New Guinea in 1994 which was a very proud moment for me and we won both of those tests. Then there was the World Cup in England the following year. I won’t talk too much about the narrow win over Tonga when it looked like we were going to lose before two late tries and a Matthew Ridge drop goal got us through! Then we got better and the semi-final against the Aussies was pretty agonising going so close. We took them to extra-time with a late Kevin Iro try and could have won it there and then with a Ridge conversion or even a huge late drop goal that went just wide. It was on his weaker foot too, from the half way line! But they were too good for us in extra-time and beat us 30-20.
Then you whitewashed the British on home soil in 1996.
Yeah, I think that World Cup kick-started something pretty good for the Kiwis because, after it, we beat Great Britain 3-0 at home then got wins over Australia in 1997 and 1998 before winning a test series 2-0 in the UK in November 1998.
In our first issue, Keiron Cunningham had you down as the toughest opponent he’s ever faced. Which of the British players are the toughest you’ve faced?
They’re all tough over there. Keiron certainly is, as are Stuart Fielden and Adrian Morley who has proved himself in the NRL. The list goes on. I’ve come up against a lot of tough Brits in my test career.
What’s been the best win of your test career?
I’d go for the 2003 test match against Australia at the North Harbour Stadium before they set off on their tour to England. We were on fire that day. The crowd got behind us and got us over the line. Clinton Toopi scored a hat-trick, Vinnie Anderson got two and we ran out 30-16 winners having trailled 16-14 with 13 minutes to go.
Which of your wins over Great Britain stand out?
The series in 1998. It was our first tour for a while and we really clicked. The first test was close, then we were losing 16-8 at half time at Bolton in the second game and were awesome in the second half running out big winners to clinch the test. Then we drew the third test when Great Britain scored a late drop goal.
What do you remember of the Tri-Nations the following year in New Zealand?
We came so close to winning that. We’d beaten them in the first game having taken a big lead and only lost by two points in the final but it wasn’t meant to be and we came out second best which was pretty heartbreaking.
And what about last year’s Tri-Nations?
We started off pretty well by drawing with Australia 16-16 but never really clicked in England although we were pretty competitive in the three games we played over there. We were winning at some point during them all but weren’t good enough to get the wins.
Who were your rugby league heroes growing up?
Mark Graham and Mal Meninga, who I ended up playing with at Canberra. Then, playing alongside Steve Kearney has been great too.