My favourite match - Castleford Tigers boss Daryl Powell recalls epic GB win against Australia

In 1990 Great Britain came agonisingly close to ending Australia’s dominance of the Ashes and Daryl Powell has chosen the first Test in that epic series as his favourite game.

Thursday, 14th May 2020, 2:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th May 2020, 2:24 pm
Great Britain's Daryl Powell takes on the Aussie defence during the first Test at Wembley on October 27, 1990. Picture by Steve Riding.

Powell, the Castleford Tigers coach, played in all three games and was one of the stars of the Lions’ stunning 19-12 victory in the opener at Wembley.

The Lions, who have not won the Ashes since 1970, were within seconds of drawing the second Test at Old Trafford before Mal Meninga scored a dramatic winner and the tourists were too strong in the decider, easing to a 14-0 victory at Elland Road.

Powell, then a Sheffield Eagles player, was at centre for Great Britain in the first Test, which he remembers as a “pretty special game for me”.

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The 'smallest centres in Test rugby' Daryl Powell and Leeds's Carl Gibson punched well above their weight in the 1990 first Test win. Picture by Steve Riding.

He said: “Wembley is a pretty special place and we beat the Aussies which was massive for us, for the country and for rugby league - and we had a real go at winning the series that year.

“I had a hand in Paul Eastwood’s try in the corner so that was a massive game. I was so nervous; I have only ever taken sleeping tablets once before a game and that was the game.

“I couldn’t sleep. It was a huge game - looking at their centres, Meninga and [Mark] McGaw, they were huge individuals and there was me and Carl Gibson on the other side, probably the smallest international centre pairing going around, so it was an interesting battle.”

A crowd of 54,569 made the trek to Wembley and got behind the home side even before the kick-off, the two teams walking out to a rousing rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.

Powell and his Great Britain teammates celebrate as the final whistle blows at Wembley in 1990. Picture by Steve Riding.

The Kangaroos seemed rattled by the passionate atmosphere, as well as the quality of the hosts’ defence.

Paul Eastwood booted the Lions ahead with a penalty, but a Meninga kick made it 2-2 at half-time.

A try from Eastwood was cancelled out by Meninga, but then Martin Offiah crossed, Eastwood converted and a Garry Schofield drop goal made it 13-6.

McGaw pulled a try back, which Meninga improved, but with 10 minutes left Powell collected Schofield’s kick and provided the money ball to send Eastwood over. There was no conversion, but Eastwood completed the scoring with a late penalty.

Leeds' Garry Schofield, Roy Powell, Paul Dixon and Carl Gibson celebrate in the Wembley changing room. Picture by Steve Riding.

“The Aussies were a very experienced team,” Powell recalled. “But you walk out there - and it was that long walk then, over the end of the track - and it was just booming.

“The noise was special, the crowd were all up so it was a huge, intimidating atmosphere, for every player I would have thought.

“I remember Andy Goodway giving information and saying ‘just keep your head down, focus on the game - don’t look up at the crowd’.

“I stuck by that and it really helped me; it kept me a little bit calmer.

“International games against Australia were intense and you ended up playing on instinct a lot because it was so quick.

“That was my first game at Wembley and it was pretty special.”

Powell - who later had a spell as player and then coach at Leeds Rhinos - played in three winning teams against Australia, but the 14-10 defeat in the second Test 30 years ago still hurts.

It seemed the Ashes were coming home when Paul Loughlin’s interception try levelled the scores late on, but the conversion was missed and in the final seconds Ricky Stuart broke past Lee Jackson from a scrum near the Aussies’ line and Meninga was in support to score the winner.

“We felt like we had them,” he said. “I still remind Lee Jackson about taking that dummy!

“There wasn’t long left. Paul Loughlin had got the interception and bizarrely didn’t take the goal kick; Eastwood missed it and it was to the left-hand side so a natural kick for Paul who was an outstanding kicker.

“They got us in the end. There was a bit of controversy with what Meninga did to Carl Gibson - running him off the ball, sitting him on his backside - but the French ref decided not to do anything about it.

“It was tough to take and they were just too good for us in the third Test. I have played three deciders against the Aussies and they’ve always been just that little bit too good - but Wembley was a special, special game.”

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