The 1966 tour of Australia and New Zealand may be forever remembered for a first-ever series whitewash against the All Blacks but it should also be accompanied by much happier reflections.
The Lions may have been criticised for their form on the latter and more substantial part of their four-and-a-half month adventure but their results in Australia were far more impressive.
Only winning just over half their 25 fixtures in New Zealand might not have made pleasant reading but seven victories and a draw from eight attempts in Australia was hardly bad going.
Two of those triumphs came in Test matches against the Wallabies and, although it is the second which is heavily favoured by the record books, the opening international in Sydney was equally important.
Just as the tour itself could be split into two contrasting parts, the first Test against Australia was a game of two halves. The Wallabies were dominant in the first; the Lions landed the decisive blows in the second.
The result read in the Lions’ favour, maintaining their momentum in Oz and setting the platform for a 31-0 hammering of the same opposition a week later.
AUSTRALIA 8 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 11
Scorers: Australia: Try – Miller; Con – Ruebner; Pen – Ruebner; Lions: Tries – Murphy, Kennedy; Con – Rutherford; Pen – Rutherford
SETTING THE SCENE
The 1966 Lions arrived in Australia knowing they would be away from home for close to 20 weeks. In stark contrast to today’s shortened tours of around five or six weeks, the class of ’66 would be on the road for an astonishing four-and-a-half months.
It was a journey that started well as the tourists thumped Western Australia 60-3 in their opening fixture. Another crushing victory followed four days later before a third straight win concluded a comfortable first week in Oz.
Tighter tussles were to follow in week two, as New South Wales Country put up a brave resistance before succumbing 6-3, while New South Wales did even better by holding the Lions to a 6-6 draw.
So the Lions went into the first of what would be seven Test matches on tour – two in Australia, four in New Zealand and one in Canada – having been asked plenty of questions in their two latest fixtures but still in high spirits following four wins in five games.
Recent history was also very much on the Lions’ side, with Britain and Ireland’s elite having had little trouble disposing of the Wallabies in their last four meetings in 1950 and ’59. But although the Lions were favourites to beat the Wallabies, it wasn’t all plain sailing before they arrived in Sydney.
Controversy had struck even before the tour had begun when Mike Campbell-Lamerton was selected as the squad’s skipper ahead of Alun Pask. The latter had led Wales to the Five Nations Championship earlier in the year and had been widely expected to be handed the ultimate honour of captaining the Lions.
But management felt differently and instead handed the armband to Scotland second row Campbell-Lamerton. It would prove to be an unwise choice, not because of the future army colonel’s personality or characteristics as a man but because his form throughout the tour simply wasn’t up to the standard required.
Former Welsh international John Robins became the Lions’ first-ever coach and he and tour manager Des O’Brien, along with Campbell-Lamerton, selected a side understandably dominated by Welshmen.
Wales provided seven members of the starting line up courtesy of four backs and three forwards. Ireland were the next highest contributors with four players despite having won just once in the Five Nations, although that solitary victory did come against Wales in Dublin.
Scotland, who finished third, and England, who failed to record a single win, both had two players in the side for the first Test. England’s representatives came out wide in full back Don Rutherford and outside centre Mike Weston, while the two Scots were found in the pack in the tour captain and in blindside flanker Jim Telfer.
Telfer would go on to become coach of the Lions in 1983 and Sir Ian McGeechan’s trusted right-hand man in 1997 but this was his first Test appearance for the Lions.
Despite being overlooked as tour captain, Pask didn’t suffer a similar fate when it came to selection for the opening Test. The Abertillery loose forward packed down alongside Telfer and Ireland’s Noel Murphy in a cosmopolitan back row. Murphy would go on to coach the Lions in 1980 and serve as president of the Irish Rugby Football Union.
Noel Murphy has enjoyed a distinguished administrative career in rugby
The front row featured three first-time tourists in Irish duo Ray McLoughlin and Ken Kennedy and Welshman Denzil Williams of Ebbw Vale. It was a combination that would be retained for the second Test as well, although it would then not be reunited in Test-match rugby until the fourth and final rubber in New Zealand three months later.
Kennedy was an outstanding hooker in the loose and his game was perfectly suited to the hard, dry grounds in Australia, although he admittedly struggled in the wetter and more physically demanding conditions in New Zealand. His compatriot McLoughlin had been Ireland captain in the season leading up to the tour but he was relieved of those duties prior to departure after rumours that his leadership methods weren’t appreciated by some of his fellow players. In retrospect, the decision appeared harsh on McLoughlin whose methods in developing a more scientific approach to the game, with a greater emphasis on mental and technical preparation, were five years ahead of their time.
Williams outdid his two front-row colleagues in appearing in all bar one of the six Tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks. Equally comfortable at lock, where he started his career, Williams went on to hold the record number of appearances for a Welsh forward until the great Mervyn Davies surpassed his tally of 36.
Looking back at the team with a view to the tours that followed, the biggest surprise in selection came with the absence of two future Lions legends.
Willie-John McBride, the most-capped Test Lion in history, didn’t feature in Sydney as he lost out to Campbell-Lamerton and Newport’s Brian Price. McBride would go on to appear on a total of five Lions tours as a player, captaining The Invincibles to series success in 1974 having played a major role in making history in New Zealand three years earlier.
Another true great of the global game to miss out this time around was McBride’s fellow Irishman Mike Gibson. The centre cum fly-half was making the first of his five tours but lost out to midfield duo Weston and D. Ken Jones and inspirational playmaker David Watkins.
Watkins, who captained the Lions when Campbell-Lamerton dropped himself for the second and fourth Tests in New Zealand, weighed just 10 stone when he made his Welsh debut in 1963. An elusive runner, Watkins proved one of the star attractions in both Australia and New Zealand.
David Watkins (right) was one of the Lions' star performers Down Under
Ireland’s Roger Young partnered Watkins at halfback on the first of his two Lions tours having only made his international debut a year earlier. Young pipped Alan Lewis to a Test spot, although Watkins’ Newport and Wales team-mate did get the nod for three of the four internationals in New Zealand.
Weston, who had played in all four Tests for the Lions in South Africa in 1962, was joined in the centres by D.K Jones – not to be confused with Ken Jones the flying Welsh wing who starred for the 1950 Lions. A former fly-half, Jones was moved into the midfield by Llanelli and featured there in three of the four Lions Tests in ’62, scoring a sensational 50-metre try in the first rubber in Johannesburg. Jones joined Cardiff the season before the Lions headed to Australasia and started the tour well, but a frustrating time in New Zealand saw him lose confidence and he never played for Wales again following his return home.
Both wings were Welshmen, with Stuart Watkins lining up on the right and Dewi Bebb on the left. The second Watkins in the Lions team was a much bigger man than his namesake David, with Stuart considered an imposing presence for his era, topping the scales at over 13-and-a-half stone and standing more than 6ft tall.
Bebb was a slighter specimen but his speed was his real strength. The Swansea flyer had clocked 9.9 seconds for the 100-yard dash on the track and had been tipped as a potential Olympic sprint king for Great Britain. He had featured in two Lions Tests in ’62 but he was even more valuable in ’66, starting all six Tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks, with the home press viewing him as one of the Lions’ real dangermen and the British media describing him as one of the most consistent players on tour.
As for Australia, they featured one of their greatest-ever half-back combinations. Ken Catchpole and Phil Hawthorne are rightly revered to this day and it was they who provided the most substantial threat to the Lions’ chances of success Down Under. The duo were the early predecessors to the crowns subsequently worn by messrs Farr-Jones and Lynagh, Gregan and Larkham, with plenty of observers still regarding them as the real kings of Australian playmaking.
Catchpole was the star attraction in his eight years as an international. The Randwick scrum-half was at the heart of all things good about Australian rugby, winning 27 caps and captaining his country on 13 occasions. A future nominee for the IRB Hall of Fame, the then 25-year-old was described by an RFU president as ‘the greatest halfback the world has known’ and was unsurprisingly the man the Lions had to keep a close eye one in Sydney.
Hawthorne thrived outside Catchpole thanks to the latter’s speed of service and own attacking instincts. Just 22 at the time of the ’66 Lions tour, Hawthorne was on his way to becoming a major name in both rugby union and rugby league and, despite his age, was coming to the end of his career in the 15-a-side version of the sport.
Australian rugby was on a high at the time of the tour thanks to a series victory over South Africa the previous year. Wins in both Tests in 1965 had marked the first-ever series success against the Springboks and the first against a major rugby-playing nation in more than 30 years.
The Wallabies would go on to tour the UK and Ireland at the end of ’66 and the beginning of ’67 and, although they lost to both Scotland and Ireland, they beat Wales in Cardiff and handed England their heaviest defeat in 16 years when they won 23-11 at Twickenham.
Australia: P Ryan; G Ruebner, R Trivett, B Ellwood, A Cardy; P Hawthorne, K Catchpole; J Thornett (c), P Johnson, A Miller, R Heming, P Crittle, J Guerassimoff, D Shepherd, G Davis
British & Irish Lions: Don Rutherford (Gloucester/England); Stuart Watkins (Newport/Wales), Mike Weston (Durham City/England), D. Ken Jones (Cardiff/Wales), Dewi Bebb (Swansea/Wales); David Watkins (Newport/Wales), Roger Young (Queen’s University/Belfast); Ray McLoughlin (Gosforth/Ireland), Ken Kennedy (CIYMS/Ireland), Denzil Williams (Ebbw Vale/Wales), Brian Price (Newport/Wales), Mike Campbell Lamerton (c) (London Scottish/Scotland), Jim Telfer (Melrose/Scotland), Alun Pask (Abertillery/Wales), Noel Murphy (Cork Constitution/Ireland)
Referee: K Crowe (Queensland)
Things didn’t go to plan in the first half of the opening international as the Wallabies established a substantial lead.
The Lions’ exciting-looking backline failed to live up to expectations as they made too many handling errors and failed to take the chances that came their way.
In contrast, the Australians made the most of their opportunities, with veteran prop forward Tony Miller showing the Lions’ backs how it should be done with a well-taken score.
Right wing George Ruebner converted Miller’s fine effort and also kicked a penalty to put the Lions well and truly on the back foot.
An 8-0 deficit at the break was hardly what the Lions had been expecting, especially as the last four encounters between the sides had finished in comfortable wins for the tourists.
But rather than roll over and accept their fate, the Lions hit back in impressive fashion. A Rutherford penalty saw them finally open their account before McLoughlin claimed the Lions’ first try.
The Irish prop, who was due to be a key figure in the historic 1971 series triumph against the All Blacks before injury cruelly robbed him of his crowning glory, took the Aussies by surprise as he charged around the front of a lineout to claim his first score in Lions colours.
Ray McLoughlin scored the Lions' first try and set up the second
Rutherford added the crucial extras and the Lions were back on level terms at eight points apiece.
If the visitors’ first try had caught the Wallabies by surprise, the second really shouldn’t have. Once again it was McLoughlin who was the initial catalyst at the front of the lineout, with his fellow forwards keeping the ball alive with some swift interpassing. Weston then set off on a jinking run that left the Australian defence at sixes and sevens and created the space for Kennedy to dive over in the corner.
Rutherford was unable to add the difficult conversion but the Lions had done enough. From dire straits at the break to worthy winners at full time, the Lions had shown their true character – something that still shone through during difficult times ahead in New Zealand.
The Lions in Sydney:
The Lions have played 40 games in Sydney at an average of more than 3.6 on each tour. One of the world’s most-talked about cities has featured in every single one of the Lions’ 11 tours to Australia and hosted an incredible 20 matches across the first three of those adventures.
A total of 12 of the 40 fixtures have been Tests, with the Lions triumphing on eight occasions for a 66 per cent win rate. It’s the Wallabies who have enjoyed the first and the last laugh, though, thanks to victory in the first-ever Test in Sydney in 1899 and the most-recent encounter in 2001.
P 40 W 30 D 2 L 8
1888: New South Wales 2 Lions 18
New South Wales 6 Lions 18
Sydney Juniors 0 Lions 11
New South Wales 2 Lions 16
Sydney Grammar School 2 Lions 2
University of Sydney 4 Lions 8
1899: New South Wales 3 Lions 4
Metropolitan 5 Lions 8
Australia 13 Lions 3
New South Wales 5 Lions 11
Metropolitan 8 Lions 5
Australia 10 Lions 11
Australia 0 Lions 13
Combined Public Schools 3 Lions 21
1904: New South Wales 0 Lions 27
New South Wales 6 Lions 29
Metropolitan 6 Lions 19
Australia 0 Lions 17
Australia 0 Lions 16
New South Wales 0 Lions 5
1908: New South Wales 0 Lions 3
New South Wales 0 Lions 8
Metropolitan 13 Lions 16
New South Wales 6 Lions 3
1930: New South Wales 10 Lions 29
Australia 6 Lions 5
New South Wales 28 Lions 3
1950: New South Wales 6 Lions 22
Australia 3 Lions 24
Metropolitan 17 Lions 26
1959: New South Wales 18 Lions 14
Australia 3 Lions 24
1966: New South Wales 6 Lions 6
Australia 8 Lions 11
1971: New South Wales 12 Lions 14
1989: New South Wales 21 Lions 23
Australia 30 Lions 12
Australia 18 Lions 19
2001: New South Wales 24 Lions 41
Australia 29 Lions 23