Great Tries - Matthew Burke v. NZL (1996) - Green and Gold Rugby
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Great Tries – Matthew Burke v. NZL (1996)

Great Tries – Matthew Burke v. NZL (1996)

This will be the first in what we hope is a series of posts highlighting some of the best Wallaby tries of recent times.  What makes a great try is often subjective.  The tries we look at will vary in many ways. Some will be brilliant individual efforts, some will be wonderful team movements.  Some will be set piece moves, other will be ad hoc plays.  Match winning tries and otherwise. We’ll try to cover them all.

But to kick us off, we go back to 1996. Australians fans had already cheered on Kieren Perkins as he won the Gold Medal in the 1500m at the Atlanta Olympics. It was the true underdog peformance from the outside lane. Could the Wallabies do the same?

Having been completely pumped by the All Blacks in the first game (43-6) in Wellington, the Wallabies were well on their way, up 11-9 with about five minutes left in the first half.  Australia were awarded a scrum on their own 40m line, when the below happened:


What a try! Let’s step it out, play by play.

First, it’s a dominant All Black scrum, and they’ve wheeled it well to put the pressure on George Gregan (9) at scrumhalf. He actually gets a clear pass out to his flyhalf, Pat Howard (10).  Now, this is where the fun begins, because Howard’s pass to his inside centre, Richard Tombs (12) is slightly in front of him. Tombs fumbles it, somehow propelling it behind him.

Now the All Black backline, having had a head start from a strong scrum, are up on the Wallabies. As Tombs picks up the ball, he’s already set upon by his opposite number in Walter Little (12). Either side of Little is Andrew Mehrtens (10) and Frank Bunce (13). Interestingly Mehrtens has maintained the line with Little, whereas Bunce has held himself back a bit.
It is here that Tombs does a great job of cleaning up his own mess. He manages to pick up and pass off, in the one movement whilst under intense pressure from Little.  Note the sly little pass to Matt Burke (15), standing on his own 22m line, as Tombs is tackled to the ground.  So much does the pass catch the All Blacks off guard that Burke is able to slip by Mehrtens pretty much as soon as he gets the ball.

The second tackle missed is that of Josh Kronfeld (7).  Kronfeld is there actually surprisingly slow considering the dominance of the scrum he was a part of. But he flies through and succeeds in getting no more than a couple of hands on Burke.

After avoiding Kronfeld, Burke straightens for a second and then continues on his angle. This seems to fool Zinzan Brooke (8) who puts in a terrible tackle effort and barely touches Burke.

So then afterburners are on. Burkie angles out again and Lomu (11) is on the chase. Burke seems corralled in now, with Lomu chasing him down, Michael Jones (6) in cover and then Christian Cullen (15) in front. And now Burkie does something, I’m guessing instinctively, that makes the try. He transfers the ball into two hands. It’s a basic skill, but what it does is cause confusion and creates doubt in the opposition.

And you can see that happen here. Cullen holds back prepared to cover the kick and chase. Then Burkie draws him in as he looks to set up his outside man, Ben Tune (14).  Now Cullen is caught in two, even three minds. And none of them work. Cullen positions himself to try to take the intercept and Burkie has him just where he wants. A simple dummy, highlighted by Cullen’s humorous leap through the air, sets Burke off for his final charge for the line.

With only Michael Jones and Jonah Lomu chasing, Burke’s only real competition comes from Jeff Wilson
(14) coming across in cover. But its too little and too late as Burke pulls off his trademark dive for the try.  Interesting to note the first man to Burke is the man who started it all at the scrumbase, George Gregan.

The try put Australia ahead 16-9 at half time. However the All Blacks would fight their way back and score  a  last minute try to Frank Bunce to secure the win for the kiwis. And whilst the Wallabies lost the match and Michael Brial did his best effort to wave the flies away from Bunce’s jersey in an early fracas, (see full highlights at bottom) it is Burke’s try that is the thing that most people remember from this test.

Match Details:

Australia v New Zealand
Lang Park, Brisbane. 27th July, 1996.

Wallabies: 15 Matt Burke; 14 Ben Tune; 13 Joe Roff; 12 Richard Thombs; 11 David Campese; 10 Pat Howard; 9 George Gregan; 8 Michael Brial; 7 David Wilson; 6 Daniel Manu; 5 John Eales [c]; 4 Garrick Morgan; 3 Andrew Heath; 2 Michael Foley; 1 Richard Harry. Replacements: Tim Gavin.

All Blacks: 15 Christian Cullen; 14 Jeff Wilson; 13 Frank Bunce; 12 Walter Little; 11 Jonah Lomu; 10 Andrew Mehrtens; 9 Justin Marshall; 8 Zinzan Brooke; 7 Josh Kronfeld; 6 Michael Jones; 5 Robin Brooke; 4 Ian Jones; 3 Craig Dowd; 2 Sean Fitzpatrick [c],Olo Brown.

New Zealand 32 (Justin Marshall, Frank Bunce tries; Andrew Mehrtens 2 conv, 6 penalties) defeated Australia 25 (George Gregan try; Matthew Burke try, 5 penalties)




  • Great post Noddy. The highlights for the game aren’t showing for some reason. Here is the URL for the youtube highlights:

    • Now with videos (again)

      (Don’t know where they went!)

  • Who Needs Melon

    Great idea for a series of topics!

    I guess another thing that makes this a great try is the quality of the opposition. That was a kick arse All Black team. A few of them were on the wane in terms of their careers but still a team of legends.

  • More people should have punched Frank Bunce, must have been the only time in his life he was standing ‘slightly back’ in the defensive line (as opposed to ‘slightly two metres offside’).

    geez Merhtens could kick, couldn’t he?

    But certainly an awesome try and two great teams, thanks for sharing that!

  • Newb

    cullen should have patented that flying squirrel defensive move. coopster is well on his way to stealing it and adding it to his ‘entertainer’ repertoire.

  • Great stuff Nodds.

    Burkie’s pace is deceptively devastating in that try. I was at school with him and he was actually (by my memory) an athlete first (sprints / hurdles and anything else) and rugby player second.

    Sure made Lomu look like a tool.

    • Wasn’t he in the Oz schoolboys 400m hurdles team? Or did I just make that up?

      And surely he wasn’t a bar on your good self Gagger…

  • beeza

    I think MBrial should be pretty emarassed by that effort,looked like he was having a pillow fight at a sleepover!

    • Who Needs Melon

      Yeah Pat Howard looked very confused as to what to do. You can see him thinking “Do I jump on my own team mate here or what?” and “When are some other New Zealands going to join in so that I have something to do”. I think he was embarassed by the whole thing. Of course, being a back, he’s also thinking “Jeez I better not join in with this or my hair might get messy”. Just kidding. I’ve met Patty and he’s a good bloke. :)

  • Pedro

    Don’t underestimate the pace of young Burke. He burns lomu, a world class player in his prime.

    That scrum has to be the rugby of equivalent of “shit gets wickets” from cricket.

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