There have been at least three ‘Battles of Brisbane’, involving the Australian and Great Britain rugby league sides, and I was ‘privileged’ to be in the crowd for two of them.
The first such ‘battle’ took place at the Gabba in 1932, when it was reported that the British introduced the stiff-arm tackle to rugby league. Australia won 15-6, despite a lengthy injury list.
The second was the Second Test of the 1966 Ashes series at Lang Park, when Australia won 6-4 in a try-less match, and British forward, Bill Ramsay from Hunslet, was sent off, after kicking Mick Veivers.
Arguably the most famous clash, and certainly the best known these days, was the 1970 First Test at Lang Park, even though no-one was sent off.
I believe it stands out because of the head-butting incident involving Cliff Watson (Britain) and debutant Australian prop, Jim Morgan, an incident which was captured by television cameras and also a film crew, hired by cigarette company, Craven A to document the series, in color.
Morgan delivered the first butt, but Watson showed him how it was done.
Morgan, a ‘garbo’, finished the match a bloodied mess, and missed the Second Test at the SCG, which Britain won, before claiming the Third Test, and the Ashes Trophy.
“Jim decided he knew how to head butt, but it wasn’t a very good effort,” Watson told me in 1995. “I waited a few seconds and then showed him how it was done. He tried me first, so I consider my actions self-defence. Jim, to his credit, backed up my version of events. He had to have an operation on his nose, but he succeeded in giving me back my migraines.”
Some in the British press described it as a ‘Liverpool Kiss’, while others said it was a ‘Cumberland Butt’.
The other main casualty in the Australian camp was lock, Ron Lynch (depressed fracture of the cheek bone), who was replaced in the 28th minute by Bundaberg blacksmith, Col Weiss.
Weiss was the only Queensland based player in the side. Arthur Beetson (Balmain), John McDonald (Manly-Warringah) and John Wittenberg (St George) were Queenslanders chosen from the Sydney competition. The only NSW Country player in the team was Catholic priest, Father John Cootes from Newcastle Wests. It was the first all New South Wales based starting side since 1921.
The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon wondered how Britain could recover.
“The British team, which had played so brilliantly in winning its five lead-up games, was beaten convincingly by the first real opposition it encountered,” wrote Reardon, giving a backhander to the standard of regional sides, as well as the Queensland State side, coached by Des Crow, and thrashed 32-7 by the Lions.
The Test made front page news in the then broadsheet ‘Sunday-Mail’, with a close-up of Morgan’s battered face greeting readers over breakfast.
It had been a dramatic Saturday afternoon, in more ways than one.
Police had had to make a frantic search under the main grandstand, following a bomb scare, and the lights in the main grandstand fused an hour before the 3 p.m. kick-off, with players from both sides having to dress and undress in the dark.
It may have been just as well, as Jim Morgan revealed he wore women’s underwear.
“I usually wear XOS briefs, and they fit pretty well. But some-how I got landed with bloomers this time,” he said. “They help protect my hips from grass burns and gravel rash.”
Throughout the match, the white bloomers hung down below his back shorts, bringing many shouts from the crowd that his slip was showing.
Spectators, particularly women, complained about over crowded toilets, and drinkers complained of slow service from the bars. Drinkers already had been dealt a blow, with the League banning people from taking bottled beer into the stadium. Gads.
Thousands of people were locked out of the ground, which was full to capacity with 42,757 given as the official crowd.
Reardon said the Lang Park Test had started with “spiteful, bruising manhandling by both sets of forwards, obviously trying to soften each other up. Maybe Britain finished in front of the softening up, because there were plenty of bruised and bleeding Australians.
“There were plenty of stiff arms, punches and head tackles, and some sly kicking. The clash of the engine rooms eventually erupted into a brawl. It was a nasty situation, with players running from all quarters, following a shin kicking duel between Morgan and Dave Chisnall. In the skirmish, Morgan was felled by Watson.”
Considering the level of violence, it illustrates the tolerance and patience of referee, Don Lancashire, because no-one got their marching orders.
Player of the match was Australian captain, Graeme Langlands, who kicked nine goals and took pressure of his side with his elusive, side stepping runs from fullback. The 18-point haul took Langlands’ total in Tests against Britain to 77, 15 clear of his nearest rival, former British winger, Mick Sullivan.
From the start, Australia played to Britain’s apparent weakness, former British Lions rugby union fullback, Terry Price, a fine goal kicker and kicker in general play, but a poor tackler and lumbering in attack. Price did not have a happy game after being controversially chosen ahead of Ray Dutton from Widnes, the other specialist fullback in the touring party.
Besides Morgan, the other Australian debutants were former Wallaby rugby union stars, five eighth, Phil Hawthorne and centre, John Brass.
In the build-up to the Test, Britain had trained at Davies Park, West End, while the Australians used Redcliffe Showgrounds, given they were staying at the Moreton Bay Hotel. The Australians didn’t win any fans in Redcliffe by calling off one scheduled run at the showgrounds, to play a game of golf. In the days before social media, and media managers, the word didn’t get out and hundreds had turned up for the run.
The Brits also enjoyed a day on the Gold Coast, as guests of the Queensland Government. They played soccer at Rainbow Bay; visited Jack Evans’ Pet Porpoise Pool at the mouth of the Tweed River, and then enjoyed a BBQ lunch. That day out might have been the Poms’ undoing.
Manchester based journalist, New Zealand born, Jack McNamara, a veteran of five tours of Australia with British sides, said he had never seen a team as confident as the 1970 outfit. They went on to win the series.
My father, Jon Ricketts, who, through his job as a Shell area manager, supplied fuel to Jack Evans’ operation, took me to the 1966 and ’70 Test matches.
1 Australian lock, Ron Coote is tackled by Keith Hepworth and Frank Myler, as Mal Reilly moves in for the kill
2 Dave Robinson (left) and Mick Shoebottom tackle Australian winger, John King
3 Bloodied Australian heroes (from left) John King, Arthur Beetson and Col Weiss
4 Jim Morgan