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!
Little did the baby Jonah Lomu or his parents know that 19 years and 45 days later he would be playing for the All Blacks in a test match!
If there has been a problem for Aborigines in Australian rugby history, it mirrors attitudes by the Australian public in general. There was an early typecasting of the race as non-achievers in life as in sport. But in rugby the Aborigines have produced a number of champion players.
The most famous were the Ella brothers, Mark, Glen and Gary, who showed the world a brilliantly instinctive degree of understanding of each other on the field of play. Their fame was worldwide in rugby. All were test players around the same time, though they never all played in the same test match.
Mark Ella was one of the First Fifteen of players inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in London in 1997. He is remembered as one of the glittering stars of Australian rugby. The other two from the family, Glen and Gary, were thrilling backline runners too, and all later became much respected coaches.
It is thought that the first Aborigine player to be capped for Australia was Jack ‘Blondie’ Howard in 1938. His teammates at the time were not all sure of his racial background and Howard apparently was never keen on discussing it. Alongside Howard in the tests of 1938 was Cecil Ramalli,who was part-Indian and part-Aborigine. It is said that Ramali, too, never revealed his Aboriginality. He preferred to be known as part-Indian.
Eventually Aborigine players emerged who were happy to declare their race. Lloyd McDermott of Queensland was a pacy winger who played tests against the All Blacks in 1962.
In the years after the Ella brothers came Lloyd Walker, Barry Lea, Andrew Walker and Jim Williams, all of whom were Wallabies. After originally being a centre, Williams was the first forward of Aborigine descent to play test football.
In the Rugby World Cups 1987-2011 which final drew the biggest crowd?