National team wins – for any nation – do not come very regularly against the might of New Zealand’s finest, but there have been numerous individual highlights involving our Tigers favourites.
Take, for example, last year’s 38-21 victory over the world champions when Manu Tuilagi’s interception try crushed the visitors in a result which is like a weeping wound in the Kiwi camp on this trip.
The Tig will also never forget that hit from a then-unknown teenager Manu on Carlos Spencer in the match against Classic All Blacks at Leicester a few season ago. Or the shrug of the shoulders and the smile from the All Blacks legend when he got back on his feet just on front of the Crumbie terrace.
It is impossible for The Tig to think of the Haka without seeing two contrasting but equally evocative images in the mind’s eye. First, there was Cockers at his fiery best, standing toe to toe with Norm Hewitt at Old Trafford in 1997, then the absolutely toe-curling intensity of the Maori All Blacks’ Haka performed at Welford Road just last year in a memorable fixture.
The club has, of course, had many favourites from the Land of the Long Cloud over the years, including skipper Colin Martin in the 50s and 60s, through to the legendary Josh Kronfeld in the new century, and on to Daryl Gibson, Aaron Mauger, Craig Newby and current favourites Boris, Scotty Hamilton and Dan Bowden.
England’s first-ever win against New Zealand was back in 1936 when Prince Alexander Obolensky, who played 17 games for Tigers in the pre-War years, scored two tries which became part of rugby lore.
In 1983 Tigers had rather more representation when Nick Youngs – dad of Tom and Ben – joined skipper Peter Wheeler, Dusty Hare, Les Cusworth, Paul Dodge and Clive Woodward in the line-up for a 15-9 win at Twickenham, a first over the All Blacks since 1946. A photo of all six and a signed programme are framed for posterity and on show on the landing on the main stand at Welford Road still.
There is also the photo of young Martin Johnson in a New Zealand Colts shirt and wearing the NZ Colts belt presented in honour of his selection during his spell there with Kings Country. Somewhat further down the line of his epic career, who could ever forget Johnno as skipper instructing his team-mates to simply “push harder” at a scrum when England were down to 13 men in the momentous 2003 win on Kiwi soil.
Pride of place, though, has to go to Wheeler who captained two sides to victory over the All Blacks in the space of just 10 days in 1983 with the Midlands (at Welford Road) and then England. That Midlands side included Dodge, Woodward, Youngs, Les Cusworth and young prop Stuart Redfern as well as full-back Hare who kicked a drop-goal from inside his own half on home turf.
Series success for the Lions in what is viewed as the ultimate test in New Zealand is a rare commodity, but Leicester legends have tried and in 1993 Rory Underwood scored a spectacular try in a 20-7 victory in the second Test which Sean Fitzpatrick has gone on record as describing as the worst performance in his time in the black jersey.
Black Monday or Sunshine Saturday, whatever is in prospect when England and New Zealand renew their rivalry at Twickenham this weekend, it can’t be long before we can add to that incredible history against the world’s best. Can it?