So we come to the final installment of Sheek’s selection of team sports over the past 50 years (or nearly so).
Of the six team sports discussed in this series, rugby union appeared last on my horizon in 1968. It happened to be a Bledisloe Cup match featuring the Wallabies and All Blacks.
The great scrumhalf Ken Catchpole captained Australia on this day, but a severe injury just before half-time ended his career. He was just 28.
Although I got to see Catchy in club rugby several years later, in which he outstandingly led Randwick to a premiership, on balance I had to make the decision whether to include him on the same brief criteria as I included Reg Gasnier (Kangaroos) and Bob Simpson (baggy greens).
Sheek’s Wallabies first XV (1967-present)
Matt Burke, David Campese, Dan Herbert, Tim Horan, Brendan Moon, Mark Ella, Ken Catchpole (vc), Mark Loane, George Smith, Simon Poidevin, John Eales (c), Dan Vickerman, Ewen McKenzie, Phil Kearns, Topo Rodriguez.
I will make some brief notes on the firsts. At least, as brief as possible.
Every team must have a recognised kicker, thus Matt Burke is essential at fullback, while I have finally come to acknowledge the genius of Herbert. Mark Ella, in my eyes, is under severe attack from Stephen Larkham’s all-round game, and Smith’s selection was 50/50. I considered quite a few different backrow combos.
It’s also instructive that two tight forwards – Dan Vickerman and Topo Rodriguez – were born and played their formative rugby overseas.
Sheek’s Wallabies second XV (1967-present)
Roger Gould, Ben Tune, Jason Little, Michael Lynagh (c), Joe Roff, Stephen Larkham, John Hipwell, Toutai Kefu, David Wilson (vc), Greg Cornelsen, Nathan Sharpe, Rod McCall, Andy McIntyre, Tom Lawton, Tony Daly.
Generally speaking, there is very little to choose between the firsts and seconds. It would be a ripper contest between the two teams. Michael Lynagh played so well at inside centre beside Ella on the grand slam tour in 1984, that he could easily have played half his career in this position.
While I have lost a lot of love for rugby, it still remains my favourite deep in my heart. Old habits die hard. Consequently, I felt the need to include a third team.
Sheek’s Wallabies third XV
Chris Latham, Israel Folau, Sterling Mortlock, Mick O’Connor, Lote Tuqiri, Paul McLean, Nick Farr-Jones (c), Steve Tuynman, Greg Davis (vc), Tony Shaw, Steve Williams, David Giffen, Andrew Blades, Mick Foley, Dan Crowley.
I am a massive fan of ‘Snoz’ O’Connor, who I still think was a more inherently brilliant player than Herbert, Little or Mortlock (with whom he can interchange in the thirds).
Unfortunately, he only played 12 Tests for the Wallabies and 18 Tests for the Kangaroos. Not quite enough to make the top two teams in either code. But put those 30 dual Tests together, plus 19 rugby league State of Origin matches, and you have the picture of a truly stupendous athlete.
Despite being a Kiwi, Greg Davis gave every last ounce of his heart for his adopted country. He is a very special gem. ‘Crazy Eyes’ Shaw is one of most favourite Wallabies.
I included a thirds selection for rugby union to show how difficult the selection process is. Of course, I could quite easily have done the same for soccer, cricket, Australian football and rugby league.