December 24 down the years
Natives triumph on Welsh soil
Western Force coach John Mitchell was in trouble on this day in 2008 © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: John Mitchell | Frank Oliver

The Natives registered the first victory by any New Zealand side on Welsh soil beating Swansea 5-0 in continuous Christmas Eve rain. The tourists had lost to Wales 5-0, although the game was not regarded as a Test. After assembling in May 1888 the side toured until August the following year, playing 107 matches including several Aussie Rules and football games.

A cross-code contest between Leeds Rugby League - who reverted to union for the duration of the war - and the Royal Navy Depot XV at Plymouth. The union meeting on this day ended in 9-3 win for the Navy; the return four days later they won even more convincingly 24-3. It was the last such meeting until the hostility between the codes was once again put to one side for the Second World War.

Western Force coach John Mitchell was in hot water with his employers after being placed on restricted duties due to reports of a player revolt at the Super 14 franchise. Former All Blacks boss Mitchell's coaching style allegedly angered senior players but he was restored to active service ahead of the 2008 Super 14. "I have always had an honest and open relationship with the players, and nothing will change," Mitchell said. "Having said that, as a head coach you have always got to look to evolve, and I am always looking to evolve."

Former All Black lock Frank Oliver was born in Dunedin. An enforcer worthy of the name, Oliver created a reputation as one of the hardest operators in New Zealand, winning 17 caps for the All Blacks and captaining the side on three occasions. While not the largest, his unruffled demeanour helped to form the backbone of a successful side. In 1977 he played four Tests against the British & Irish Lions, after making his debut against South Africa earlier in the year. He went on to play three Tests on the All Blacks' 1978 Grand Slam tour of the northern hemisphere. After retirement his coaching career took in spells with the Hurricanes and Blues in Super Rugby.His son, hooker Anton, played 59 Tests for New Zealand and was also part of a Grand Slam in 2005.

The ground was so hard for the Barbarians-Leeds fixture that the clubs agreed to play a "touch-rugby" exhibition match lasting 20 minutes each way to entertain an expectant holiday crowd.

Wing Stewart Boyce was the toast of the touring Wallabies, scoring a hat-trick of tries in their 11-10 escape against the South-Eastern Counties at Bournemouth.

Harlequins were in rip-roaring form on their way to beating Richmond 43-15 in a match that reflected the seasonal spirit.


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