Down Memory Lane: Ulster heroes of 84 are reunited one more time
Historians contend that 1984 was the genesis for Australia to become a legitimate rugby power. That year under coach Alan Jones they achieved a famous Grand Slam triumph. The Wallabies had at last arrived.
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Now they have returned to these shores, having already beaten an impotent England 18-9 on Saturday at Twickenham, and are hoping to repeat their all-conquering feats of 25 years ago.
Yet in that memorable tour they were stopped dead in their tracks by Ulster who shocked them 15-13 on a damp, dismal day at Ravenhill.
My colleague Alf McCreary, in what we in the journalistic world call “a colour piece”, wrote that the stadium rocked with a roar of pure Ulster joy.
“The Australians had the look of men who realised that the boomerang wouldn’t come back. It was a day to remember — November 14, 1984,” wrote Alf.
Acclaimed BBC commentator and rugby authority Jim Neilly, who broadcast the match live on Radio Ulster, recalls: “It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience with Ulster, coached by the late Jimmy Davidson, fighting back from 13-6 down to produce a shock result.”
Eight or so of the team had been at Queen’s University when Jimmy was coach there. Some, too, went on to play for Ireland in the 1985 Triple Crown year. That dank afternoon they became Ulster immortals.
The class of ‘84, led by skipper David Irwin, held a reunion last week in La Mon Hotel to reminisce on a match captured by one headline “A deathless hush descended . . . Antipodean manhood was being tamed.”
A night of nostalgia and all our yesteryears.
The game, universally accepted as not a classic, was nevertheless steeped in drama leaving spectators numb with excitement.
It was the launch pad, too, for Ulster’s astonishing 10-year unbeaten inter-provincial run. Here was an accomplished squad possessing all-round quality — and a hunger to succeed driven by Davidson’s vigour and enthusiasm.
While every member of the team proved himself a hero the man-of-the-match award justifiably went to scrum half Rab Brady, named “the tiny pocket dynamo from Ballyclare” by then Telegraph rugby correspondent John Campbell.
He stamped his authority on virtually all the moves, orchestrated the entire back division and drove the pack forward with a masterly display of line-kicking.
Nigel Carr, the truest of open side flankers, made a dream return to rugby after a two-year absence, while Willie Anderson and Brian McCall were majestic in the second row.
The Australian pack were unable to cope with Ulster’s fierce rucking, and clever support play.
Ulster led 6-3 at half-time through an Ian Brown penalty and Philip Rainey dropped goal; in contrast Michael Lynagh, a 20-year-old Queensland student, scored from only one of four goal attempts.
Then came the anticipated Australian backlash. Left winger Peter Grigg touched down after full back James Black had thundered into the line to unsettle the Ulster cover; Black was later injured and replaced by superstar David Campese.
Instantly the Wallabies went further ahead when Grigg crossed after the ball had been whipped out to the left following ruck.
That scoreline 13-6 seemed a safe cushion for Australia but, revealing the determination instilled into them by Davidson, Ulster had other ideas.
Brown got a penalty, then another. A series of rucks and mauls went in their favour and, with eight minutes remaining, Keith Crossan sprinted down the left touchline in search of a loose ball, Campese darted to intercept but deliberately knocked it into touch.
A penalty for Ulster. The clock was running down.
The kick was 45 metres from the posts. Up stepped Rainey firmly placing the ball before whipping it between the posts.
Those agonising final seven minutes seemed like an eternity and then the whistle . . . a wonderful chapter in Ulster rugby history was written. The kangaroo had been tied down.
Ravenhill, hallowed home of Ulster rugby, erupted, producing an atmosphere similar to Windsor Park on a major international occasion, or when an Irish boxer wins a world title at the King’s Hall. Venues steeped in tradition, heritage and memories.
ULSTER: P Rainey (Lansdowne); T Ringland (Ballymena), D Irwin (Instonians, capt), I Moles (Ards), K Crossan (Instonians); I Brown (Malone), R Brady (Queen’s University); P Kennedy (London Irish), J McDonald (Malone), J McCoy (Dungannon), B McCall (London Irish), W Anderson (Dungannon), N Carr (Ards), P Matthews (Ards), W Duncan (Malone).
Australia: J Black; P Grigg, T Lane, M Lynagh, M Burke; M Hawker (capt), P Cox; S Pelecki, T Lawton, A McIntyre, N Holt, W Campbell, W Calcraft, D Codey, M Reynolds. Replacement: D Campese for J Black.
Referee: R Megson (Scotland).