Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Last Ashes Contest (2010)

Forty years ago, Great Britain toured to Australia for what proved to be the last enthralling Ashes series contested. Not since the Lions tour Down Under in 1970 has a test series drawn as many people to the games.

In the first test, England were towelled by the Kangaroos to the tune of 37-15 in front of 42,807 people at Lang Park. Johnny King and John Morgan both scored a pair of tries each and John McDonald picked up a try as well. Langlands potted nine goals and Phil Hawthorne slotted over two field goals.

Many felt that this series was going to be a forgone conclusion. Many though, didn’t count on the brilliance of Roger Millward.

After making several changes, including the return of Millward, the Lions hit back in a big way, winning 28-7 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of a crowd of 60,962. Millward played a starring role, scoring 20 of the Lions 28 points with 2 tries, 6 goals and a field goal.

With the series tied up and the Great Britain side gaining momentum, for the first time in many years Australia, was under heavy pressure to retain the Ashes which they had held for the last two series.

July 4, 1970. The decider.

A whopping 61,258 people packed into the grand old girl, the Sydney Cricket Ground. A galaxy of international Rugby League stars were lining up, including Bob Fulton, Arthur Beetson, Bob McCarthy, Ron Coote, Frank Myler, Roger Millward, Cliff Watson and Malcolm Reilly.

Australia received three early penalties and opted to take the points on offer every time, with Allan McKean potting three penalty goals. Millward also kicked a penalty goal for Great Britain, and after eleven minutes neither side was able to break the others defences.

However, some luck from a kick gave the Lions an opportunity. McKean attempted to put in a grubber kick which was charged down by Hartley, who the press had dubbed ‘one of the slowest players on the field.’ Hartley then kicked the loose ball ahead, regathered and scored next to the posts.

Less than ten minutes after the first try, British winger John Atkinson intercepted a stray pass from Beetson to run away and score the Lions second. Just three minutes later, some brilliant individual play by Millward set up a try for Syd Hynes. Millward chipped over the defence, regathered and fell but managed to get a pass away while on one knee to Hynes, who raced away to score. After trailing by 4 just 12 minutes before, the Lions now lead 15-6.

This twelve minute period essentially sealed the game for England. They had an unassailable lead. Australia simply could not breach the young Lion’s defences. The Kangaroos were kept in the match entirely from penalty goals by Allan McKean. It wasn’t until the 75th minute that Bob McCarthy managed to score Australia’s first try when he crashed over out wide. By then Great Britain lead 18-12 and were playing against an Australian side with twelve men after Arthur Beetson was marched for a careless high tackle on Cliff Watson ten minutes earlier.

With just five minutes remaining, Australia trailed by four and looked a distinct possibility to win. But the genius and brilliance of Roger Millward put that possibility to bed when he backed up Laughton who made a break just three minutes from full time, to score the match winning try.

The Ashes were recaptured by the touring Lions and were heading back to England. They had been written off by many pundits early in their campaign as they were a side full of very young players who had yet to be tested at the highest level by many, if any, of the international heavyweights.

Amazingly, the same situation happened 12 years later when a team of young inexperienced Australians played a much older and more experienced Great Britain team on their own soil.

However, in 1970 it was the young Roger Millward, who helped deliver many great times for England, including their last World Cup in 1972.

But until Australia lose the Ashes, he will be forever remembered for his heroics in this 1970 series, and fittingly, scoring the match winning try in the last game.

Furthermore, it was the Ashes winning try.

The last Ashes winning try by the Lions.

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