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Can the Wallabies channel the ghosts of 1961?

Quade Cooper practices at Wallabies training. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
15th October, 2013
21
1306 Reads

Normally a Wallabies-All Blacks Test generates blanket coverage, but not this one in Dunedin in four days time.

It’s almost yawnsville, despite the seven-try spree against the Pumas last time out.

The Wallabies have lost their core support, and will need to do something spectacular in Dunedin to regain it.

Rugby fans have to go back to 1961 to find a similar situation.

In 1959, the Lions beat the Wallabies 2-0, and there were no Tests in 1960.

When the Fijians arrived in 1961, there had been a mass exodus of top-line Wallabies.

Arthur Summons had switched to rugby league, Des Connor went to the other side of the ditch to become an All Black, while Alan Morton, Len Diett, Ken Donald among the backs, and Bob Outterside, skipper Peter Fenwicke, John Carroll, and Keith Ellis up front, had called it a day.

So the first Test team against Fiji featured 11 new caps with half-back Ken Catchpole skipper on debut, a first, along with Mike Cleary, Jimmy Lisle, Ed McGrath, Harry Roberts, and John Dowse in the backs, with forwards John O’Gorman, Ted Heinrich, Terry Reid, Dick Thornett, and Graeme Macdougal.

Only four Wallabies had played before – the entire front-row of warhorse Tony Miller (28 caps), hooker Peter Johnson (1), and Jon White (5) along with full-back Rod Phelps with 16.

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Only 7,000 spectators turned up to watch the newcomers, and weren’t impressed with Fiji leading 6-3 at the break.

But some inspiration from Catchpole saw the Wallabies lift, and by full-time had won 24-6 with tries to Cleary, Lisle, Thornett, McGrath, Catchpole, and Phelps, making Phelps the first Wallaby full-back to score a try in a Test.

With credibility restored, a tick under 21,000 turned out to watch the second Test against Fiji at the SCG, with the Wallabies again winning, this time 20-14 – the highlight the debut of lock Rob Heming who was to become a legend.

The series ended with a 3-3 draw in Melbourne, before the new-look Wallabies set off for a two-Test tour of South Africa.

There were three important issues on that tour.

Firstly, Catchpole was captain-coach at 21, the Wallabies played in gold jerseys for the first time, and even though beaten 28-3 and 13-11 had silenced the South Africa media which had pilloried the side pre-tour as “boys sent to do a man’s job”.

Rugby had gone through a dark stage, but had emerged on the bright side.

Much the same as the Wallabies in Dunedin need to do before the Grsnd Slam tour of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with Italy thrown in.

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I well remember those dark days in 1961, and how great Ken Catchpole was from a cold start in lift the Wallaby image.

I expect the same from Will Genia, who comparatively has far more experience.

Bring it on.