Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
9 December 2015
Golly! Turning back the clock today! Martin Devlin of Radio Sport in New Zealand has just had me on-air on his programme asking for memories of the first ever 'Grand Slam win' by an All Blacks team in the United Kingdom. I gave him my best based on using notes from my 'Encyclopedia of World Rugby' published in the 1990s (and updated here) concerning which southern hemisphere countries had done best at this unique achievement. Read on here;
South Africa's Springboks achieved the most impressive Grand Slam feats of all beating all five teams on its UK and France tours of 1912–13 and 1951–52. New Zealand and Australia have not ever done that.
And in 1960–61 the Springboks beat the four United Kingdom teams but drew with France, and in 1931–32 it beat the four UK teams but did not play France. So South Africa kind of lead the way here I think you might agree.
The All Blacks did not win their first Grand Slam against British and Irish countries until 1978, under the captaincy of Graham Mourie. But that team did not play France on that tour. The ‘Invincibles’ New Zealand team of 1924–25 also won four internationals, including against France, but did not play Scotland. The 1967 All Blacks (Brian Lochore's team) also won four internationals but did not play Ireland.
At the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa the All Blacks won a 'World Cup Grand Slam' beating Ireland and Wales in pool play; Scotland in a quarter-final and England in a semi-final. No other team has done that.
The All Blacks have also won Grand Slams in 2005 (captain Tana Umaga), 2008 and 2010 (both under Richie McCaw). Those ones do not include games v France. But still that means NZ have four 'UK Grand Slams.' Sadly since 2010 the world of rugby officialdom and marketing have not allowed the All Blacks to attempt any more 'GS's".
Australia won its only Grand Slam against all four 'Home' countries in 1984. They did not play France.
Australia had a 'Grand Slam of defeats' on their 1957-58 tour, losing all five games including against France. But their 1947-48 team had another unique Grand Slam; That team did not win all four internationals but in their four games, win or lose, they did not have their try-line crossed.
In terms of UK Grand Slams among the English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and French teams, perhaps the England effort of 1928 deserves to be called the greatest, when it beat all the other teams in the Five Nations championship as well as the 1928 season’s touring team, the famous ‘Waratahs’ of New South Wales." Well done England!
Andy Haden and Frank Oliver conjured up a lineout dive v Wales in Cardiff to fool the ref into giving NZ a penalty; that later led to a 13-12 AB win.
Rosslyn Park and England
4 internationals for England 1936
One of rugby history’s most colourful characters, Prince Alexander Obolensky was the son of Prince Alexis of Russia. The young prince was born in Leningrad in 1916 but was taken to England the following year, presumably to avoid the Russian revolution.
He was educated at Trent College and Brasenose College, Oxford. ‘Obo’, as he was known, was an elegant and speedy wing and his rugby prowess was quickly recognised. Late in 1935 he played for Oxford in the annual Universities match, the first of three appearances in that famous game.
As a 19-year-old, early in 1936, he played for England against New Zealand at Twickenham. England caused an upset by thrashing the All Blacks by 13–0. Obolensky scored two tries, one of which has become a classic. His diagonal run through the New Zealand defence, as he scored for the second time, can still be admired on newsreel film footage and on YouTube. That game thereafter became known by rugby writers as ‘Obolensky’s match’.
After he left Oxford University his form fluctuated and fell away. He won only four caps, all in the 1935–36 season, but his memory is ensured both because of his colourful family background and his extraordinary, if briefly flowering, rugby talent.
A world record in first-class rugby is still entered in some books under Obolensky’s name. ‘Obo’ toured South America with a 'Rugby Football Union' team in 1936 (presumably an English selection), and in a game against Brazil he crossed for 17 tries, still a record for one game, though perhaps the first-class quality of the local XV might be called into question.
When World War II broke out, Obolensky joined the Royal Air Force. He died when the Hawker Hurricane he was piloting crashed on landing in East Anglia. He was the first of 111 rugby internationals from all countries to lose their lives in the conflict.
Which former Springbok test rugby captain won a Rugby World Cup winner's medal for Australia in 1999?