Kenneth William Catchpole
- 455Wallaby Number
Ken Catchpole was arguably Australia's greatest ever rugby player. An undoubted rugby genius of supreme skill and talent, Catchpole was a mercurial halfback gifted with rare anticipation, superb hands and blistering speed. He possessed a quick, accurate, long and flat pass to either side. It was his speed of release that provided his fly half and the three quarters with an invaluable extra yard of space from which to launch their attack. As well as being the complete scrum half he was a brilliant opportunist and one of the greatest cover defenders the game has ever seen. He electrified players and spectators alike with his particular blend of wizardry and magic.
Catchpole left an indelible mark on Australian rugby. Born in Sydney of Victorian parents, Catchpole was educated at Coogee Preparatory School and after that he received a scholarship to The Scots College. He played scrum half in the U14s, and then, with Barrie Ffrench as coach, he gravitated to inside centre, because there was another fine scrum half available, one Jack Corner.
Catchpole said the experience at inside centre was invaluable, as it taught him the value of getting the ball early. He played three years in the 1st XV (1955-57), made the GPS thirds in the first year, and the GPS firsts in the two remaining years.
In 1958 he entered the University of Sydney, studied Science, and probably should have played for the University, but instead went down to Randwick as they had an U21 team. While at Randwick he immediately came under the influence of Wallabies Wally Meagher and Cyril Towers, and took very little convincing that “the running game was where it was at.”
In 1959, after just eight first grade matches, Catchpole made his debut for New South Wales when they beat the British Lions 18-14 and inflicted the only loss of their tour. He was a reserve for both Tests but had to wait until 1961 (Australia did not play any Test rugby in 1960) for a Test debut, against Fiji in Brisbane.
From that debut, Catchpole played in 27 of the Wallabies’ next 31 Tests through to the 1st Test against New Zealand in 1968.
Still in 1961, Catchpole was selected on his first Wallaby tour, to South Africa, as captain and coach. Some of the veterans on hand who were not chosen for the captaincy were John Thornett, Peter Johnson and Tony Miller. Despite the Test series result (0-2) the overall experience, both socially and rugby-wise, was profound. From the point of view of rugby, the scrum in particular, he learned more of the science of scrummaging, and this education provided a platform for Australia’s scrum play for the next ten years.
From 1963 through 1965, Catchpole was at the core of some of Australia’s greatest ever victories including the two away wins against South Africa in 1963, the first time the Springboks had lost back-to-back Tests at home all century; the 20-5 defeat of New Zealand in 1964, the largest loss at home in All Black history; and the 2-0 home series victory over South Africa in 1965.
On the Fifth Wallabies tour in 1966/67 a Catchpole master class led Australia to victory over England at Twickenham, and at the dinner after the game RFU president Duggie Harrison toasted the Wallabies in these words: ‘I have become very fond of our Australian friends and have had hours of enjoyment out of the magnificent type of football they play. I have also had the pleasure of watching the greatest halfback of all time!”
His international career came to a premature end in the 1st Test against New Zealand in 1968. He was tackled and fell awkwardly in a splits position under both packs of forwards. All Black forward Colin Meads pulled hard on one of Catchpole’s legs and doing so inflicted terrible damage to his leg muscles and ligaments.
In retirement, Catchpole became a respected voice on the national broadcaster ABC's rugby coverage and he served as a president of NSW Rugby Union. Catchpole received the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2001 for service to rugby union football, and to the community. He was an inaugural inductee into the Wallabies Hall of Fame in 2005 and in 2013 was inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame. The Ken Catchpole medal is awarded each year to the Shute Shield's most valuable player.
Ken Catchpole played 27 Tests for Australia, 13 as captain, in a distinguished seven-year career. Fellow Wallaby captain Simon Poidevin said, "He was loved by Wallabies young and old and displayed a modesty that defied his achievements and set an example for our sport."
Catchpole won his first Test cap at halfback alongside John Dowse in the 1st Test, 24-6 victory over Fiji at the Exhibition Ground. He captained the side on debut to become the 46th Wallaby to captain his country in a Test. Catchpole also scored his first Test try in that match to become the 41st Wallaby to score a try on debut. He earned a further five caps from the final two Tests of the Fijian series, the two away losses to South Africa and the 8-15 defeat to France at the S.C.G.
In the 1st Test, 6-20 loss to New Zealand in Brisbane, Catchpole partnered Norm Storey despite having had only one competition game that season due to a torn hamstring. He was paired with Beres Ellwood for the 2nd Test, 5-14 defeat at the S.C.G. Catchpole was overlooked in favour of Ken McMullen for the 1st Test, 9-9 draw at Athletic Park but was recalled for the 2nd Test, 0-3 loss In Dunedin. He missed the final Test due to a badly bruised hip.
Catchpole was unable to play in the 1st Test, 3-14 loss to South Africa at Loftus Versfeld due to a fractured metacarpal bone in his hand but returned for the three final Tests alongside Hawthorne.
Catchpole partnered Hawthorne in all three away Tests against New Zealand.
The Catchpole / Hawthorne pairing stated in both home wins against South Africa.
Hawthorne played outside Catchpole in the two home defeats to the British Lions.
Catchpole started all five Tests on the Fifth Wallabies tour and captained the side against Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland.
He captained Australia from halfback, again inside of Hawthorne, against Ireland and New Zealand.
In his final Test, Catchpole combined with John Ballesty, in the 1st Test, 11-27 loss to New Zealand at the S.C.G.