Wallabies bounce back to claim famous win
Huw Richards
December 2, 2011
Australia's Ken Catchpole feeds his backs, England v Australia, Twickenham, England, July 1,1967
Wallabies scrum-half Ken Catchpole feeds his backs during their clash with England at Twickenham in 1967 © PA Photos

Wales play Australia at the Millennium on Saturday, 45 years to the day after another meeting between the two teams, also in Cardiff.

Their clash on December 3, 1966 at what was still known as Cardiff Arms Park came in the context of one of the later old-style full-dress tours - 34 matches including five internationals spread across five months.

The Wales match was the first of the five Tests, and there was no great expectation of the tourists. It wasn't just that Australia was then regarded as very much the junior relation of the southern hemisphere trio. This team had already lived down to expectations in Wales - it had lost to Cardiff and its last three matches before the international were a 3-3 draw with Newport, a 9-8 loss that was the sole highlight of one of the worst seasons in Swansea's long history and then a 12-3 defeat by a combined Pontypool-Newbridge-Cross Keys select that tour manager Bill McLaughlin reckoned "the worst performance by any Australia team that I have seen and perhaps in the history of the game". The captain John Thornett was unwell and hooker Ross Cullen had been sent home after biting the ear of Oxford University prop Ollie Waldron.

Wales were Five Nations champions and had not been beaten in Cardiff since 1963. They had included four new caps, but were still firm favourites and seemed to confirm that standing with an early try from Haydn Morgan, a veteran flanker playing alongside his Abertillery team-mate and captain Alun Pask and winning his 27th cap. The only Welshman in the ground who wasn't pleased was ESPNscrum's own John Griffiths - then a student. He had drawn goal-kicking Terry Price in the sweep on the first score held on the coach to the game and had been looking forward confidently to collecting a decent sum.

But that was about the last time a match described by the Playfair Rugby Football Annual as 'a magnificent game of open rugby' followed pre-match expectations. It would prove to be a good day for the veterans. Six of the points that gave Australia their 9-6 lead at half-time came from fullback Jim Lenehan, who had played against Wales on Australia's previous tour in 1958 - although he was not the senior player among the Wallabies since prop Tony Miller had been around since 1952. After outside-half Phil Hawthorne had levelled Morgan's early score - worth only three points in those days - with a drop goal, Lenehan kicked Australia into the lead with a penalty. Price landed a goal for Wales but Lenehan then struck again with a try.

Wales centre John Dawes, playing his own international between 1965 and 1968 was to tell biographer David Parry-Jones how impressed he was by the Wallabies, confessing to "astonishment at the pace with which Australia launched attacks from all quarters of the pitch. The sheer speed of their inter-passing took his breath away as the Welsh three-quarters tried to close down spring-heeled opponents. At scrum-half skipper Ken Catchpole whisked the ball off one stride like lightning to Hawthorne from whom it flew on its way to wings Boyce and Cardy. At other times fullback Lenehan would arrive at top speed between or beside the centres, a devastating move given that his opposite number, Terry Price, was not having the greatest of games."

"At scrum-half skipper Ken Catchpole whisked the ball off one stride like lightning to Hawthorne from whom it flew on its way to wings Boyce and Cardy."

It was that well-time incursion into the line, a move encouraged in Australian domestic rugby by the 'Australian dispensation', the limitation on kicking to touch that would soon be adopted worldwide, that produced Lenehan's try.

In the second half a try by Alan Cardy, converted by Lenehan, took the tourists into a commanding lead. Dawes crossed for Wales, Price converted and the hosts pressed in an exciting five minutes, but the Wallabies held on. Parry-Jones records that 'at the final whistle tears of happiness flowed down the cheeks of manager Bill McLaughlin at this first-ever successful incursion into Wales by the Wallabies'.

That is certainly how it was perceived at the time, but history has been re-evaluated since with the upgrading of New South Wales teams in the 1920s to full Australia status on the grounds that with Queensland rugby in abeyance, the Waratahs were for practical purposes the Australian team. So, when you consult reference sources like ESPNscrum.com's own listings, there is an earlier victory, 18-8 by the New South Walians, popularly known in Wales as the Wara Tegs, in 1927.

Australia would go on to lose to Scotland, Ireland and France, but beat England 23-11 at Twickenham with a display that led RFU president D.H.Harrison to hail Catchpole as the greatest scrum-half of all time.

Wales went on to lose their first three matches of the 1967 Five Nations before averting their first ever whitewash in Keith Jarrett's match, the 34-21 beating of England at Cardiff. The defeat by Australia was the last cap for Haydn Morgan, as he gave way to London Welsh flanker John Taylor. And while losing to Australia was seen as something of a humiliation, December 3, 1966 wasn't a complete washout for Wales. Two of those young debutants were Gerald Davies, then a centre, and Barry John. There can have been few if any occasions in rugby history when two better players have made their debut for the same team at the same time, although the simultaneous introduction of J.P.R Williams and Mervyn Davies against Scotland in February 1969 is certainly a rival.

The result was also in keeping with Wales's truly horrible record in internationals in early December. Wales have played 11 internationals on dates between the December 1 and 15, and won only two of them - against Australia in 1908 and 1981. Otherwise they have lost five times to South Africa, twice to Australia and once each to New Zealand (1972) and Romania (1988). The message the WRU might have considered in staging a one-off Test in December is that if you must, do it later in the month. The record from December 16 on is six wins out of eight, including all three victories over the All Blacks. Timing, it seems, is everything.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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