Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Ulster theme to Ireland's historic successes over Aussies

 

By Jonathan Bradley

With Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale, Rob Herring and John Cooney all having made contributions to Ireland's series victory in Australia that finished off the side's most memorable of seasons on a high note, the Ulster quartet played their part in a little piece of Irish rugby history.

It was the latest memorable moment for Ulstermen against the green and gold, with plenty from this province having enjoyed some great moments down the years.

For Ken Goodall in particular, Australia were always a side with whom he would associate fond memories.

Born in England but having fostered his love for rugby while attending Foyle College in Londonderry, the number 8 was just 19-years-old and a student at Newcastle University when he was handed his first Ireland cap for the visit from Australia in 1967.

Having played in the Ulster team that managed a 6-6 draw with the same Wallabies six months prior, the precociously talented teen - who would represent Ulster, Ireland and the Barbarians all during his first year in senior rugby - thought he knew what to expect but found himself losing his way before the game had even kicked off.

"I made my debut against Australia in 1967," he retold in the book 'No Borders' before his untimely death at the age of just 59 in 2006.

"You loosened up and then suddenly the band started the anthem. I didn't know where the flag was.

"When I noticed people were facing the other way, I shuffled around and faced the south terrace."

It was a moment missed by his family watching on TV as he found out only later.

"My grandmother Cassie Daly draped a cloth over the television," he said.

"She was a staunch unionist. Only when the anthem was over would the cloth be removed.

"Mike Gibson scored our first try in that game and I was a bit full of myself as we were running back to the halfway line.

"It was nothing too extravagant but Noel Murphy, the captain, said to me, 'Settle yourself down, Goodall, you're not a schoolboy any more'."

When a first touring side from these shores left for Australia later that same year, Goodall was again involved having become a mainstay in the back-row during his first Five Nations Championship.

It would prove to be a landmark game for the Irish as a side that also included the likes of Ulster legends Gibson and Willie John McBride won 11-5 in the Sydney Cricket Ground.

It would be Ireland's first away victory over one of the southern hemisphere's rugby powers.

While Goodall's try-scoring exploits are best remembered for his fine solo effort against a Triple Crown chasing Wales in the 1970 Five Nations, his first score for Ireland wasn't too shabby either, coming when Australia were back in Dublin in 1968.

By the time Ireland were next in Australia, it had been almost a decade since Goodall's early retirement, one of the most talented back-rowers of his generation, and by then a British and Irish Lion, having walked away from the game to take a wage in Rugby League, the ultimate taboo in the game at the time.

There was still plenty of Ulster influence on that historic trip of 1979 though, with Colin Patterson's two tries in the first Test crucial to Ireland ultimately securing their first series victory in the home of one of the traditional southern hemisphere 'Big Three'.

As Ireland departed, the back pages at home were abuzz with talk that reigning European Player of the Year, and a key figure behind Munster beating the All Blacks the previous season, Tony Ward was to be dropped in favour of Ollie Campbell.

And that would indeed prove to be the case when the side was named for the first Test in Brisbane.

While there was much rumour about the exact reasons behind the axing of Irish rugby's most famous talent, Campbell let nobody down, even if it was his half-back partner grabbing the headlines.

Patterson had become the side's first choice scrum-half in time to face the All Blacks in Dublin in 1978 and kept his place throughout the next season's Five Nations.

His first experience of touring in the green jersey - and ultimately his only such trip after an injury on Lions duty ended his career in 1980 - got off to a flying start with a pair of tries in the first Test.

The games were to be the last played in an Ireland shirt by the great Gibson, one of Ulster's finest ever players.

"It was a good way to go out," he said, again in No Borders.

"Looking back at my Ireland career, we would have had periods when we simply did not have the class of player to deal with New Zealand or South Africa and so on, but we had 15 people on the field who really wanted to be there and were prepared to sacrifice themselves for a victory.

"And if it wasn't a victory we'd cause as much difficulty as we could to the opposition.

"And after the match, if we won we would be delighted and if we lost we'd say 'well we'll play somebody else next week'.

"There are so many elements within rugby that are of use when dealing with life. The enrichment comes from the satisfaction of being the member of a successful side, but more from the fact that you were in a team which fought together - those memories just will not leave me."

Moving towards the modern era, and Ireland's most memorable moments against the Wallabies have come at World Cups, the most notable of all not even coming in a victory.

Nobody gave the boys in green much of a hope when they were set to meet David Campese and co at Lansdowne Road in the 1991 World Cup but, thanks to a wonder try from Ballymena flanker Gordon Hamilton, the notional hosts were on the very brink of making it to the last four.

As the crowd mobbed the Ulsterman, Ralph Keyes slotted the conversion to give Ireland a three-point lead and set up a clash with the All Blacks.

Years later, Hamilton would say he was glad the try came in the time it did, as crowd control soon meant the iconic image of the player being engulfed by supporters could never have been. Little did those fans know though that there was one more twist in the tale.

Working the ball from a scrum in the final moments, Australia sent Michael Lynagh over in the corner with Ireland only a foot or so away from herding him over the touchline.

A deathly silence descended over Lansdowne Road at the end of one of the World Cup's most memorable games.

Ireland would get some measure of revenge 20 years later when the sides met at the pool stage in New Zealand.

The kicking of Johnny Sexton and Ronan O'Gara accounted for all of Ireland's points that day in Eden Park, but the most enduring image of all?

Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris picking up Australian scrum-half Will Genia and driving him backwards as he tried to advance the ball.

With the sides not due to meet next November, what price when they next meet will again be at a World Cup, this time in Japan?

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph