FLASHBACK: November 1973

FLASHBACKNOVEMBER 1973

Tall, rampaging forward, Phil Lowe scored two tries in Great Britain’s brilliant 21-11 win over Australia in the First Test at London’s Wembley Stadium.

Lowe, from the Hull Kingston Rovers club, scored his first try after just 90 seconds, and the touring Kangaroos never recovered.

He scored his second try in the 75th minute, from a sweet pass from five eighth, David Topliss, to seal victory, with Topliss causing plenty of headaches for rival, Tim Pickup.

Britain’s hooker, Colin Clarke (father of future international and current Sky Sports commentator, Phil Clarke) also scored two tries, a feat almost unheard of, at a time when hookers were there primarily to win the ball. He did that as well, shading Australia’s Elwyn Walters 10-8.

Britain led 4-2 at halftime, thanks to Lowe’s first try and a field goal by halfback, Steve Nash (Tries were worth only three points). Australia got on the board through a penalty goal by captain-coach, Graeme Langlands.

Rugby League Week’s Geoff Prenter said Lowe’s display stamped him as a future all-time great.

Australian team manager, Charlie Gibson blamed a “lack of hard football” for the loss, with the ‘Roos having scored 210 points to 70 in their eight straight wins leading up to the Wembley Test – against club sides, Salford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Castleford, Widnes, Oldham and Bradford, as well as county side, Cumberland.

The crowd at Wembley was only 9,854, with around 5,000 believed to be Australian supporters.

The Wembley loss put Langlands under enormous pressure, with the press having a field day.

In his biography, ‘Macca’, Australian second rower, Bob McCarthy said it was disappointing that many of the journalists on tour, were eating and drinking with the players, but at the same time sending stories back to Australia, saying ‘Sack Chang’ (Langlands).

Remember, there was no internet in those days, so we didn’t know what was happening, until the Australian newspapers were sent to us a week later by a Souths’ official, who worked at Australia Post,” McCarthy said. “It certainly upset ‘Chang’, and it played on his mind on tour, and ate away at his confidence.

The matter was resolved when ‘Chang’ broke his hand in a club match, and was ruled out for the rest of the tour. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and he was able to refocus his energies on retaining the Ashes.”

By the time I covered my first Kangaroo tour – in 1982 – the players and press weren’t mixing socially as much as on previous tours, for a number of reasons. One, was the fact the media contingent was much bigger, and competition for stories more intense, so there was a ‘them and us’ environment, to some extent, between the players and journalists.

On the ’82 tour, coach, Frank Stanton invited journalists to a players’ function at a pub in the English countryside. As we arrived, one of the players yelled, ‘Who invited those b…..s’.

Stanton smoothed things over, as some of the journos threatened to leave. ‘Don’t worry about him,” said Frank. “He (the player) is just angry that he can’t make the Test side.”

Footnote: Phil Lowe signed for Manly for the 1974 season, ruling him out of contention for Great Britain’s tour of Australia, under the rules of the time, which stipulated you had to be playing in the English competition.

Ahead of joining Manly, he rated the Sea Eagles pack up there with the British unit, which had demolished the Australians on the 1970 Ashes tour. (Lowe couldn’t make the starting side in 1970). With Lowe’s signing, Manly were set to boast an all international pack – fellow Englishman, Mal Reilly as well as Terry Randall, John O’Neill, Bill Hamilton and Fred Jones.

An electrician, Lowe could not resist the big money on offer from Manly, via supremo, Ken Arthurson, especially as he was finding it hard to get regular work in the UK. In fact, Lowe was forced into an untenable situation of having to travel several hundred kilometres, by train, to a steelworks for employment. England’s busy match schedule meant he once played four matches in eight days, including a Test.

I’m looking forward to what should be a better life, all round,” he said.

Photo: Phil Lowe.

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