The glory days of SCG and beating England never get old… 47 years later | Latest rugby news
England’s impending test visit to the Sydney cricket ground for the first time since 1975 has rekindled fond memories of the bold start of a young wonderkid, Wallaby.
It’s 47 years today that 19-year-old fly-half Ken Wright and an ambitious band of golden men shaped the future of Australian rugby.
Don’t miss! Buy your tickets for the Wallabies three-Test series against England
The 30-21 win over England in the spirited ‘Battle of Ballymore’ on May 31, 1975 completed a 2-0 run started with a 16-9 upset at the SCG a week earlier.
Beating a top rugby nation in a series for the first time in a decade was a historic moment for the Wallabies that spurred even greater conquests for decades.
Ticket sales are already brisk for July’s exciting eToro England Series when Michael Hooper’s ambitious Wallabies of 2022 will have their own chance to shape history.
The July 16 Test against England at SCG will be the culmination of a thrilling three-Test duel against manager Eddie Jones and his England team.
The series opens at Optus Stadium in Perth (July 2) ahead of a visit to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane (July 9) where the Wallabies are on a 10-game winning streak.
Memories of the SCG as an inspirational stage for Test rugby are still vivid for Wright at 66.
“I was only 13 when I watched my first test from the old SCG hill,” Wright recalled.
“I remember thinking how special it was to see the players in those golden shirts running around the pitch from the locker room under the stands.
“At 19, it was just total excitement to make my test debut there.
“I had only played about four first year games (for Randwick) and a few games for Sydney and NSW.
“Do you know what I remember? Before kick-off, they played the same anthem on both sides…God Save The Queen.
It’s true. Advance Australia Fair was still nearly nine years away from being proclaimed Australia’s national anthem.
Wright left aside that his sizzling sidestep for a jaw-dropping try helped Sydney pull off a streak, a 14-10 win over England in a previous match on tour.
He was one of those young backline prodigies the Wallabies are famous for. Think David Campese, Tim Horan, Jordan Petaia and so on.
Wright was a pocket rocket at 1.71m under wavy hair. He had to wear a woolen overcoat just to tip the scales at 70kg.
He had fascinating feet. His right-footed step to set up one of Greg Cornelsen’s four tries against the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1978 is still one of the classic images of 1970s Australian rugby.
In 1975, he did not yet have the calmness of experience. He was a wide-eyed kid playing against England’s pristine white shirts and their superiority complex.
“I had toured England in 1973. They won comfortably (20-3) but they were so condescending,” Wallabies center Geoff Shaw said.
“‘You did so well today,’ that’s the kind of stuff these rough guys came out with and they still treated us like colonials.”
Wright made his Test debut with the two most experienced Australian Wallabies of the day inside and outside him. Shaw was at inside center and the late great John Hipwell was at halfback.
“‘Hoot Owl,’ we’ve always called Kenny for his facial looks, had flair and talent, but you tried to leash him so he had a bit at the right time,” Shaw said.
“He went down Mug Ravine a few times in that 1975 series and got hammered. When he picked the right times to be off leash, he was doing his zip-zipping thing and I couldn’t keep up. C was a real pocket rocket.
Wallabies number 8 Mark Loane scored Australia’s only try in the 1975 SCG Test for the narrow 7-6 half-time lead over Tony Neary’s England side. There was to be no step back from the gold platoon under the vocal guidance of trainer Dave Brockhoff. The long-haired whirlwind Ray Price, Tony Shaw, Peter Horton, a mustachioed Steve Finnane, on his prop debut, Stu MacDougall, Reg Smith and Garrick Fay completed the willing and tough First Test pack.
Wright and another debutant, fullback Bob Brown, kicked in second-half field goals so the Wallabies could rejoice in a 16-9 win.
“A test debut goes so fast you just remember bits and pieces of it,” Wright added.
“I hit that basket softly and can still remember it being framed by the top of the Noble Stand as it cruised.
“The attackers made the difference in this series. Every time I got tackled, Ray Price was right on the ball to get things done.
“’Pricey’ was the hero of the crowd. On the way back to our hotel after the test, the team bus stopped in traffic outside the Olympic Hotel (in Paddington) and all the drinkers wanted it to jump off and join them at the bar.
“It was great to win at SCG and a very important series win for the Wallabies.”
Then-flanker Tony Shaw reveled in having Price as a secondary partner.
“’Brock’ led the charge with his lyrics saying we shouldn’t take a step back and we didn’t. Pricey was at his best in this series. You’d have Englishmen coming from the back of the lineout with the ball and Pricey would be there waiting for them to knock them down with a ‘Cumberland Throw’. Welcome to my website.
One of those Englishmen was an unharmed young striker named Bill Beaumont, the current chairman of World Rugby, in the early months of his 41 Test career.
Wright will find a way to be at SCG in July to support Hooper and his team.
“It’s an important series for the Wallabies. There have been signs of good things coming from the team,” Wright said.
“We need a great result for Australian rugby. If we don’t win, we take a step back.
Geoff Shaw saw firsthand what victory over England did for the Wallabies years after the 1975 result and sees the relevance for 2022.
“This series marked the start of a better period for Australian rugby. In July, the Wallabies need to win against England to give them a boost in what lies ahead with the All Blacks and the FIFA World Cup. next year,” Shaw said.
“It’s a great opportunity.”
Tony Shaw agrees: “It’s a series to win, especially against a team led by Eddie Jones. The Wallabies playing England have always been big and to do so in a three Test series would really be something to be proud of.