He's a bit before my time but generally regarded as the best halfback Australia ever produced. He must have been good because we've had some terrific 9s over the years. There's still controversy on Oz rugby forums about his career ending injury and the involvement of All Black Colin Meads.
Also Stan Pilecki has passed away. A hard as nails prop of the 70s I recall he broke a Welshman's jaw in a game back when foul play was rampant. He was the first sportsman of Polish origin to represent Australia. (Maybe the only one! )
The game where Pilecki broke Graham Price's jaw. The crowd was so big at the SCG my Dad decided we would have to climb over the fence to get in! In those days the Wallabies were not that strong and Wales were seen to us to be Rugby Royalty. We were overjoyed with a victory!!
Wales v Australia 1978The game where Pilecki broke Graham Price's jaw. The crowd was so big at the SCG my Dad decided we would have to climb over the fence to get in! In those days the Wallabies were not that strong and Wales were seen to us to be Ru
Hi Nick, Here’s another article I thought you may enjoy reading.
The memory of it still lights a fire in Rob Heming’s mind, of Ken Catchpole coming from who knows where to make an astonishing try-saving tackle on Springboks winger Gert Cilliers as he dived over at Ellis Park for what should have been the match-winning try against Australia in 1963.The legendary Ken Catchpole cuts a classic pose as he fires out a pass at training in 1968. He’s 85 now, Heming, the legendary Wallabies second-rower, and no longer afraid to tell people his age, unlike when he was younger and needed to keep his advancing years a secret so that he could squeeze another season or two of rugby out of his body. But although 19,836 days have passed since Catchpole launched himself at Cilliers in Johannesburg on August 24, 1963, knocking the ball out of his hands, Heming remembers it like it was yesterday.
In many respects, it sounds like a mirror image of George Gregan’s covering tackle on Jeff Wilson in the 1994 Test in Sydney which Heming not only also saw but later congratulated Gregan on. The trouble is that while Gregan’s heroics have been endlessly replayed, television was still in its infancy back in 1963, and live broadcasts from South Africa were the stuff of science fiction.
So, scarcely anyone knew of the Catchpole tackle which is a sad oversight. It might just have been that Kenneth Catchpole — who died on Thursday night aged 78, just two days after another great of Australian rugby, Stan Pilecki, was far more than merely Wallaby #455. He may have been the greatest Wallaby of all time.
Heming, with a nod in the direction of another immortal second-rower John Eales — who these days is pretty much rated the greatest Australian rugby player ever — has no doubt Catchpole had no peer in this country. “I’d like to say he was the best,” said Heming. “No one really was his equal. He was … well … magical.”
Former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer, who played alongside Catchpole at Randwick, grants that quite a number of players have been touted as the best ever. “But there was no competition,” said Dwyer. “It was Catchpole.”
He remembers sitting on the hill, the day Catchpole, just five games out of Colts, made his debut for New South Wales against the British Lions in 1959. Just one year younger than Catchpole, he had no gauge of how good he really was, so when Catchpole scored one try and set up another for Alan Morton as NSW won 18-14 — the Lions’ only defeat in Australia — he chortled to his mates that in a year’s time they’d all be playing for Australia. Only over time did it become apparent that what he was watching was a rare and irreplaceable talent.
There seems remarkably less debate about whether Catchpole was the greatest halfback ever to play the game. Dwyer, in 1999 — the year of the Wallabies’ second World Cup triumph — was asked to select the best XV of all time. Not surprisingly, he found his selected team top-heavy with Australians, so he decided to run it past a prominent Welsh coach whose identity, as will become evident, is probably best not revealed here.
“So I asked him: Who’s the greatest halfback ever, thinking he would naturally say Gareth Edwards. (Indeed, four years later Rugby World magazine would declare the Welsh halfback the greatest player who ever lived.) But he answered me straight away … Ken Catchpole,” said Dwyer. “His explanation was that Edwards was the greatest athlete to have played the game but Catchpole was the greatest halfback.”
The Welshman’s verdict, while seen as treasonable in the valleys of his homeland, still riled Dwyer. Yes, he had had his opinion confirmed about Catchpole’s standing as a halfback, but he always would insist that Catchy was also the greatest athlete to play the game. Who knows where he got his speed from — probably his mother, a champion schoolgirl sprinter — but Catchpole was the fastest player ever over 40m, and not just according to Dwyer.
It is an opinion Dick Marks, who played at outside centre in that Ellis Park Test, also shares.
“Cilliers was the fastest player in the Springboks and it was a try for all money,” said Marks. “And then Catchy came flying out of nowhere and jolted the ball loose.”
Not only did the Wallabies win that Test 11-9 — 54 years ago and still the last time the Wallabies won in Johannesburg — but it was their second successive Test triumph on that South African tour, putting them 2-1 up in the four-Test series. The South Africans, then indisputably the best side in the world, had been mortified when the Wallabies had beaten them 9-5 in the second Test at Newlands but to lose to them twice was unthinkable.
They vowed to take vengeance in the final Test at Port Elizabeth and they eventually did, winning 22-6, to draw the series, but not before the hometown referee had awarded a disgraceful try to the Boks and the black spectators — who supported all visiting teams but especially had taken the Australians to heart — rioted and had to be driven off the ground with gunfire.
That tour cemented Catchpole’s place in history, but it was the 1961 Australian tour of the Republic when he had acted as captain and coach, that had provided valuable intelligence for 1963.
Heaven knows why the Australian Rugby Football Union thrust both the coaching and captaincy roles on a 22-year-old. The theory is that there were so many Randwick players in the touring side who knew and respected Catchpole that there was no hint of a backroom revolt against the rookie captain.
Catchpole played 27 Tests from 1961-68, 13 as captain, which was a lot of internationals for that era but still too few. Everyone knows — well, the tragics at least — that his career was cut short by All Black great Colin Meads who took offence at him lying on the ball and pulled his leg like a wishbone. Yet never did Catchpole speak of his career-ending injury.
“We must have had a million ports at the end of rugby dinners and not once did he refer to it or Meads,” said Dwyer.
There is a statue of Catchpole in the entry plaza of Allianz Stadium. It shows him standing up, about to pass the ball. Presumably it is from a lineout, because Jules Guerassimoff, another 1963 Test teammate, used to marvel at his ability to turn bad ball into good by clearing it off the ground from scrums with a snap of the wrists. How few Wallaby halfbacks down the decades have emulated his incredibly quick service. How many have wished they could.
The statue is about to be relocated. It is moving nearby, to Rugby Australia’s new headquarters. It would have to be said that RA has made some questionable decisions of late.
But not this time.
Hi Nick,Here’s another article I thought you may enjoy reading.The memory of it still lights a fire in Rob Heming’s mind, of Ken Catchpole coming from who knows where to make an astonishing try-saving tackle on Springboks winger Gert Cilliers as