Breaking Brisbane: England out to fix dire record

Date published: June 10 2016

England will take to the field on Saturday bidding to not only get their series off to a perfect start, but more immediately to end a torrid winless run against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Four times England have taken on Australia in Queensland and four times they’ve been defeated, although that doesn’t quite cover the two pummellings they took at Suncorp Stadium in 1998 and 2004.

In comparison to those two dark days their losses at Ballymore in 1975 and 1988 are positively respectable.

That first trip in the mid-Seventies might have even ended the losing streak before it even got going, given that England led 15-9 at the break.

Tighthead prop Mike Burton’s red card for a late tackle however in the third minute meant England were always set to toil in “The Battle of Brisbane”. A hard-nosed England pack featuring the revered Bill Beaumont, Roger Uttley and Andy Ripley faded as the Wallabies scored five tries to England’s two, deservingly winning 30-21.

Thirteen years later they returned to Ballymore and just like in 1975 led by a significant margin at half-time, ten points this time at 13-3, up against the great Wallaby trio of Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh and David Campese.

Australia, with three debutants in their starting side, refound their nerve as Lynagh’s boot drew them not only level but also put them ahead. In total he finished with six penalties in a 22-16 win.

It’s at Suncorp though where England have been a disaster. World Cup wins did come on this ground in 2003 against Uruguay and in the World Cup quarter-final win over Wales, but when facing the Wallabies against the backdrop of green and gold seats they have wilted, shipping a hatful of tries on both occasions.

The 1998 fixture was the first game on the famous “Tour of Hell” in which an inexperienced England toured Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and lost all seven of their matches – including to New Zealand ‘A’ (10-18), the New Zealand Maori (14-62) and the New Zealand Rugby Academy (32-50), with Byron Kelleher and Bruce Reihana amongst the try scorers in that last game.

6 Jun 1998: Stephen Larkham of Australia makes a break during the Cook Cup match against England at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. Australia won 76-0. Mandatory Credit: David Rogers /Allsport

First up on that tour though was a return to Brisbane. With Australia more or less at full strength and England handing out seven new caps, five in the starting XV, they were rightly put to the slaughter.

Stephen Larkham and Ben Tune both scored hat-tricks in an 11-try romp, which by the time the final whistle put England out of their suffering had created a scoreline of 76-0.

Four of those England players who made their debut in Brisbane – Scott Benton, Richard Pool-Jones, Stuart Potter and Dominic Chapman – never won another Test cap.

On the other hand, Jonny Wilkinson, Phil Vickery and Danny Grewcock all started that day and went on to win the Rugby World Cup five years later.

Six years on from the Brisbane massacre in 2004 there would be no weak selection, but instead an exhausted group at the end of the a season which had included the World Cup triumph in the same season.

For the newly-crowned world champions desperate to carry themselves with more swagger than the touring party from 1998 this was a hellish ending to a tour which already seen England thumped twice in a week in New Zealand by a combined scored of 72-15.

Captained by Lawrence Dallaglio but without an injured Wilkinson, the slickness of Australia’s backline was too much for England to handle, slumping to a 51-15 defeat as Clyde Rathbone picked up the baton from Larkham and Tune by scoring a hat-trick of his own.

To 2016 then, and a defeat similar to the size of the drubbings in 1998 and 2004 would be a total shock.

England are rightly being tipped by many to clinch the first Test but they won’t exactly have been able to draw on their record in Brisbane as a source of encouragement.

Making history in Australia through a series win has been the message from Eddie Jones in the weeks of build-up to this exciting series. England can alter the record books early by winning at Suncorp.

by Ben Coles