SYDNEY- Prime Minister John Key was a hero on Saturday night, kicking the winning goal to secure Bledisloe Cup victory for the All Blacks against Australia.
With two minutes to go in the game and with Australia ahead by two points, things were looking grim for the New Zealand team. But a Wallabies transgression gave the All Blacks a much-needed penalty within kicking distance.
But joy turned to tragedy, as regular kicker Daniel Carter pulled up injured. With the other kicker in the team, Luke McAllister, sidelined, it appeared no-one was left to take the crucial kick.
That’s when Key got the call.
“I could see there was a problem,” said Mr Key, who was sideline enjoying official Australian government hospitality. “Dan was down and it looked pretty bad. Ted [Graham Henry] yelled out to me ‘got your boots?'”
Mr Key was quick to act. “My country needed me. I was a bit rusty from my footy days at Burnside High School, but I knew if I just struck it right I had a good chance.”
Key changed hastily, then went on in place of Carter. He took the penalty kick and, to the astonishment of most of the crowd, the ball went between the goalposts.
Moments later the game ended. Key’s goal secured a desperately needed win for New Zealand.
The PM’s appearance caused some surprise among the players of both teams, and Australian management expressed concern afterwards about the irregular nature of Carter’s substitution. But coach Robbie Deans said “that’s just rugby. You can’t change what happened on the field. We just have to go away and work on our game, and not worry what the officials do.”
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was surprised, but also delighted by Key’s effort. “It was a big call, bringing Key on. But he did the business.”
This is not the first time a New Zealand PM has stepped in during a crisis. In 1985 league fan David Lange stunned the rugby league world by turning out for the Kiwis, and then running eighty metres to score a sensational try to secure a win against Great Britain.
And only a few seasons ago Helen Clark opened for the Black Caps in a test during their Indian tour, when the bulk of the team were sidelined with a stomach virus. Clark scored a gritty 67 not out in her second innings, helping to secure a creditable draw.
Key would not be drawn on whether he would turn out again for the All Blacks. “I’ll consider it” he said, “but I can’t commit to anything definite.”
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