Published in Rugby League World
The 1992 World Cup Final
Great Britain v Australia
“I haven’t seen the Pommies tackle like this ever!” – Australian TV pundit Paul Vautin
“You relax for a split second and they punish you,” – British prop Kevin Ward.
Renouf Breaks British Hearts
THIS was anything but an expansive, free-flowing game of football but, if you remember watching it, try and think of a more nerve-wracking 80 minutes you’ve experienced as a Rugby League fan, as Great Britain tried, but ultimately failed, to cling on to the narrowest of leads on the biggest stage of them all.
Three months after an agonising Ashes series defeat down under, Great Britain had the perfect chance to make amends and claim their first piece of silverware against the Aussies in 20 years with a huge crowd of over 70,000 were cheering them on. Back then, international Rugby League wasn’t confined to a satellite channel on a Saturday evening; the nation was behind Malcolm Reilly’s boys with a huge BBC audience tuning in.
Reilly’s side were more than a match for Australia. The 1990 Ashes went down to the wire and in 1992, GB had actually scored 49 points to Australia’s 48 in the Ashes, but had lost by two games to one with the deciding Test in Brisbane going to Australia by 16-10.
And this final was just as close and just as tense. From start to finish, there was nothing in it as the Kangaroos scraped home with a late Steve Renouf try.
British captain Garry Schofield still can’t believe that Great Britain lost.
“It was a real honour to captain Great Britain in a World Cup final at Wembley, especially in front of a world record Test crowd but it was devastating to lose. There was nothing between the teams back then.
“We changed our entire gameplan and that didn’t help at all. I was moved to centre to cover for the injured Paul Newlove, Deryck Fox came into scrum-half and Shaun Edwards moved to stand-off.
“I hadn’t played in the centres for a long time and I’d been pleased with how I’d been playing at stand-off for Great Britain. Deryck wasn’t quick enough for international rugby and we switched to a cautious gameplan. We didn’t create a lot and scored our points through penalties.”
But on the plus side for Great Britain was the return of Ellery Hanley who had missed that year’s Ashes series. With him in the side, may felt, it may have been a different story in Australia.
The game was anything other than a flowing spectacle but for sheer tension, it ticked every box. Martin Dermott caught Brad Fittler with a high shot and the Penrith star played on with a broken jaw while Fox’s penalties nudged the home side ahead as the clocked ticked away.
With GB up by two, they came close to wrapping the game up on two occasions. Firstly, a Fox bomb almost led to an Alan Tait try and then Schofield nearly took a crucial interception that could have settled it.
Reilly’s tactics appeared to be paying off until Alan Hunte knocked on deep in his own territory. Kevin Walters, on as a substitute, floated a flat pass to his left. Steve Renouf took the ball and, already on the outside of John Devereux, who had replaced the injured Gary Connolly, scored in the corner. Renouf had recently hit superstardom in Australia with a length of the field try in the Winfield Cup Grand Final – Brisbane’s first Premiership success – and Meninga converted meaning that the late penalty that Britain received couldn’t be kicked at goal.
Shaun Edwards also reflected later that Reilly had got the team selection wrong.
“I think the problem was the team selection,” remembers Edwards. “Malcolm picked Deryck Fox and myself with Schoey in the centres which I felt was a mistake. He should have just picked two out of the three of us.
“But, having said that, we were winning the game with eight minutes left. Unfortunately for us, Gary Connolly, a great defensive centre, had to go off injured, which was rare for him. Steve Renouf got on the outside of his replacement John Devereux and we lost the World Cup.”
After the game Reilly reflected, “I’m sick of losing. We’re getting so close. We’ve just got to think positively and go forward.”
The morning after, Schofield told Open Rugby magazine, “How do I feel? It hasn’t really sunk in yet. The players just feel empty, sort of in a daze. It’s hard to believe that the World Cup final is all over and we lost. Maybe it’ll start to sink in tomorrow, even later in the week.
“We’ll just have to have to make sure we win the next World Cup. I can’t wait to get the Aussies back here at Wembley – we’ll win it next time.”
Sadly for England that wasn’t the case – they lost another close final in 1995 – 16-8 – with Martin Offiah having a try disallowed.
And sadly for Schofield, he never started a match against Australia again as Reilly’s Great Britain side – our best in years – began to break up. Hanley and Joe Lydon also waved goodbye to Anglo-Aussie encounters as our national side fell further away from Australia during the Super League era.
But, in the modern era, Wembley 1992 was as close as we came.
Great Britain 6 (Fox 3 goals)
Australia 10 (Renouf try, Meninga 3 goals)
Great Britain: Joe Lydon, Alan Hunte, Gary Connolly, Garry Schofield, Martin Offiah, Shaun Edwards, Deryck Fox, Kevin Ward, Martin Dermott, Andy Platt, Denis Betts, Phil Clarke, Ellery Hanley. Subs: John Devereux, Alan Tait, Kelvin Skerrett, Richie Eyres.
Australia: Tim Brasher, Willie Carne, Steve Renouf, Mal Meninga, Mick Hancock, Brad Fittler, Allan Langer, Glen Lazarus, Steve Walters, Mark Sargent, Paul Sironen, Bob Lindner, Brad Clyde. Subs: John Cartright, David Gillespie, Chris Johns, Kevin Walters.