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A letter to our English rugby friends ahead of the Test series

“Coo-eee!….G’day” all Pommy-granates, distant relatives, rugby fans, players – women and men, girls and boys, referees and coaches …especially you Eddie.

A special “Hello” to any living relatives of William Webb Ellis, and our ancient forbears, who committed us as convicts, to join our indigenous brothers and sisters in this distant colony of ‘Terra Australis’, still standing immensely proud under the Southern Cross.

A warm welcome to Gadigal country from the people of the Eora Nation. Our ‘mob’ have placed a soft footprint on this ‘Great Southern Land’ for over 60,000 years. In this 2022 year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, this Formal Letter is to warmly welcome our ‘pommy’ friends and supporters to the shores of Australia again.

This continues our rich unbroken 113-year rivalry in rugby, and our sharing of much more. You have probably forgotten that historic match on 9th January 1909 when our first Wallabies converged on Blackheath’s Rectory Field in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, well before Twickenham was developed, to claim an emphatic 9-3 triumph over the best team England could muster.

Since then, the Wallabies and the English have contested 52 Test matches, sharing the results with 26 wins to England and 25 to Australia and one drawn – 15-15 against John Eales’ XV at Twickenham in 1997.

As this is your first trip ‘down-under’ since 2016, we guarantee that we’ll pack the Stadiums in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney for the big Corroboree. Invoking Rudyard Kipling, one of your most celebrated authors and my own favourite:

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”

So may the three-match contest yield both victors and visitors as much pleasure and satisfaction as each other.

We Wallaby fans still wince in pain at the thought of Rob ‘Squeaky’ Andrews MBE, right on full time, kicking a superb drop-goal to sink us in the quarterfinal of the 1995 RWC at Newlands Stadium in South Africa.

And we are still bruised by Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal – just 26 seconds from the bell to steal the 2003 world cup from us 20-17…aarrgh….in our backyard.

It still makes us nauseous. To assist recovery, we usually think of the 25m try by our second slowest Wallaby forward ever – Tony Daly – to clinch the 1991 RWC final 12-6 in front of HRH at Twickenham.

Or how Campo’s wizardry mesmerised you in the ’84 Grand Slam. Other good tonics include our Cricket Ashes series 4-1 thumping we gave you last summer. Thank you Mitch Starc and Pat Cummins…!

Or Warnie’s regular demolition spin-job on you. Hello Mike Gatting!

However, in the ‘fair dinkum’ spirit of Wallaby rugby, we genuinely honour your British legends who have proudly pulled on the English Rose throughout our 52- match rivalry.

Beginning with your first captain, Frederick Stokes in 1871…

Then there’s Will Carling (72 caps, 1988-1996), arguably your most successful captain, Martin Johnson (84 caps, 1993-2003) still the only man to captain England to World Cup Glory, perhaps your best ever openside flanker Peter Winterbottom (58 caps, 1982-1993).

We’ve got Jason Robinson (51 caps, 2001-2007), the sizzling Rory Underwood, England’s greatest ever try-scorer (84 caps, 1984-1996) your ‘Prince of Centres’ Jeremy Guscott (65 caps, 1989-1999), powerful backrower Richard Hill (71 caps, 1997-2008), uncompromising centre Will Greenwood (55 caps, 1997-2004), your talismanic No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio (85 caps, 1995-2007), fly-half Jonny Wilkinson (91 caps, 1998-2011), and the cool handed Owen Farrell (83 caps, 2012…).

Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell (Kaz Photography/Getty Images)

We acknowledge your female legends – Maggie Alfonsi MBE (74 caps), prolific try-scorer Sue Day MBE (59 caps), Deborah Griffin OBE, Louise Latter, Genevieve Shore, Genevieve Glover, and perhaps your best outside half and outstanding leader Karen Almond MBE who played in the ’91 & ’94 World Cups. All ornaments to the game.

There is one undeniable truth that unites our teams. It’s that our two great nations share much more in common than in difference.

Hey, hold the phone….back up a bit… On the eve of a Test series, we feel the need to remind you that Aussies are more than competitive when it comes to sport, even Chess & Sudoku, or anything else against the ‘Ol Dart’.

We happily concede that you have a few impressive monuments…Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Hadrian’s Wall, beautiful Stonehenge, the Salisbury Cathedral, your Roman Baths, or Stratford-Upon-Avon. The Tower of London would be a stretch – not in the same race as our Opera House and our majestic ‘Coat-hanger’, perfectly bridging Bennelong and Barangaroo with Blue’s Point.

If you sail into Sydney Harbour (Capt. Arthur Phillip was onto something there!) or fly over sparkling Sydney beaches, the competition evens up very quickly!

The muddy Thames becomes very forgettable in comparison. Admittedly, you have the pretty Cotswolds, Hyde Park and the spectacular White Cliffs of Dover, but hey…we wouldn’t swap them for Uluru, Kakadu, or our Daintree rainforests alongside the Great Barrier Reef.

We know you love our beaches Bondi and Manly …perhaps even more than our Kiwi friends! If we throw in our famous wines from the Barossa, Hunter, Clare and Margaret River, its game set and match! Is now a good time to politely ask if the rumour is true that more Aussies than English have won Wimbledon and swum the Channel?

Granted, you possess inspirational history, from which we have benefitted immensely. We immediately think of the King John at Runnymede. Under your ancient Ankerwycke Yew tree of 1500 years, he signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

The same tree witnessed Henry V111’s proposal to Anne Boleyn in the 1530’s. You also have its dendrological cousin in Sherwood Forest where medieval outlaw Robin Hood took shelter with his ‘merry men’. By the way, we reckon Robin Hood would have made a perfect ‘Aussie’ – and as a scrum flanker, I’m guessing he would have pilfered more ball than Richie McCaw!!

Mmmmm…Let’s talk food. Full credit for your famous Bangers and Mash, a staple for most dads! Slow hand clap for your Classic English breakfast, Toad in the Hole, Shepherd’s Pie, your ‘stodgy’, porridge and pasties however, let’s go three hats with Yamba King prawns on the BBQ, Junee lamb cutlets, some protein-rich Witchety Grubs and the famous Aussie Meat pie – perfect at the Rugby (with sauce!)

Over coffee we’ll indulge you with some Tim Tams, Lamingtons or ANZAC biscuits.

Speaking of ANZAC, it attracts our absolute reverence and supreme respect. Salute to all diggers!
As a statesman, Winston Churchill eclipsed Menzies, Thatcher, Hawke, Chifley and Keating to inspire us with: “We shall fight them on the beaches…” however he really gave our ANZAC’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass at Gallipoli! As Kipling would describe:

“We pulled for you when the wind was against us and the sails were low”.

A year later, in another brave and courageous act, 800 Australian Light horsemen led the last great cavalry charge at Beersheba. It smashed the gates open for the allies’ victorious campaign and probably saved western democracy. Our scrum and backline are replete with this bold and fearless tenacity.

Comrades, we have immense admiration for your cultural narrators over the last 1000 years. Against any measure throughout history, your anthology of superb authors is spectacular if not unsurpassed.

They influenced so many of our childhood and educational formation experiences. Most of our forwards and backs – female and male – thrived on a nutritious literary diet of Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), CS Lewis (Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe) A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh & Christopher Robin), even becoming a source of comfort to the troops at war.

It united them like a tight scrum. Beatrix Potter allowed us to escape to The World of Peter Rabbit. Roald Dahl’s incomparable creativity, while Robinson Crusoe’s adventures in Defoe’s classic captivated young Aussies. Like Lord of the Flies, it was an idyllic adventure.

Then as teenagers, we dined on the unparalleled genius of Shakespeare (NB: In King Lear: Act 1 Scene 1, Kent actually sledges Goneril’s servant Oswald as a “base football player”), the ever- brilliant Dickens, Charlotte Bronte (Wuthering Heights), George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion), romantic Elizabeth Browning, Virginia Woolfe, George Elliot and the irreplaceable Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, Emma) rounded out our diets. And who doesn’t love a bit of “Harry Potter” in bed or an Agatha Christie murder mystery?

You gave us “Father of English poetry” Geoffrey Chaucer, Homer’s “Odyssey” …. always an excellent source for Wallaby Lineout calls, Wordsworth, Keats, Lord Byron and Alfred Tennyson. What a feast of imagination and talent. Thank you. We still delight in their gifts daily.

To reciprocate, we invite you to dance through Dorothea Mackellar’s “My Country” ….
“I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains;
Of rugged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror- the wide brown land for me!”

Curiously, a poem about Australia, written at the age of 19 while Dorothea was homesick in the United Kingdom!

Since the ‘Endeavour’ sailed from Plymouth to Botany Bay in 1770, our storyteller scribes have celebrated Australia’s magical landscape, the RM William’s outback experience and the ‘bush’.

With only 250 years in our moleskin back-pocket, we’re far from high-brow down under, however we hope in earnest that you get to rejoice in Banjo Patterson’s magnum opus “The Man from Snowy River” and the Swaggie’s “Waltzing Matilda”.

To really know Australia, you need to read yarns from our loveable bush poet Henry Lawson, such as “The Drover’s Wife”, “The Loaded Dog”, “While the Billy Boils” and “The Bush Undertaker”.

When you finish these, try our corner-post authors Judith Wright, Patrick White, Kate Grenville, Tim Winton, Colleen McCullough, Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey or Miles Franklin’s “My Brilliant Career”. Delight your children and grandchildren with Norman Lindsay’s “The Magic Pudding” or “Snugglepot & Cuddlepie”. Nourish your families with “Bluey”, our global hit. Not to do so, would be a diminished life. These of course are all dwarfed by our ancient national Dreamtime stories, capturing 65,000 years.

Now here’s where we need a referee or touch judge to arbitrate. Could such a small antipodean nation challenge your prodigious talent of global musicians over the decades?

Well yes, entirely! Be assured, we tip our slouch hats to the powerhouse Rolling Stones, The heart-throb Beatles, Elton John, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Cat Stephens, The Kinks, Dusty and Cilla…Just Gold. Ok, Ed Sheeran if you insist. Eternally grateful that these have made our lives even better.

To balance the musical ledger, you’d have to doff your caps to our great world bands INXS, AC/DC, The Easybeats, Dame Joan, Gurrumul, Bee Gees, Men at Work, Yothu Yindi’s classic “Treaty” and the immortal “Working Class Man”. What British backpacker hasn’t echoed those words on the way home from a Bondi pub?

If you haven’t listened to Paul Kelly’s musical ballad on Vincent Lingiari, you’re risking a Yellow Card and 10 minutes in the bin. And don’t get us started on The Wiggles or Kylie! They’re in your DNA. The TMO couldn’t prosecute that England has anyone better.

Have to say ladies and gentlemen, we do admire your “Balmy Army”. They can proudly belt out “God save the Queen” or “Land of Hope and Glory” with such stirring spirit and loyalty, even as we’re rolling a maul towards your line, but sadly, often sounding like braying donkeys.

No contest when we break into our second national anthem “Hey True Blue”. And you can put down your ‘vegemite sandwich’, our ball-boys and ball-girls see your bench players shake and tremble with fear in their eyes when we chorus:
“We come from a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder;
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover”.

Did someone mention running? …Wow, what a stellar history England can boast. We loved your Chariots of Fire masterpiece – Eric Liddell & Harold Abrahams, both gold medallists at the 1924 Paris Olympics. But far better, Sir Roger Bannister smashing the 4-minute mile barrier in 1954.

Only our living legend Herb Elliot’s 1500 Gold and new world record at the 1960 Rome Olympics are in that class. Mmmm…Cadel Evans and Cliffy Young? Just while at the Olympics, we stand in loud acclaim for your celebrated rower Sir Steven Redgrave CBE who achieved the impossible with five golds at five Olympics, however we politely remind you that our Steve Bradbury conquered world’s best to easily take gold in the speedskating.

Ok, we’ll give you extra points for ‘Eddie the Eagle’s’ courage… or his madness.

Let’s go to stumps at Lords, Old Trafford and Edgbaston – your hallowed cricket grounds, graced by Sir Ian “Beefy” Botham, James Anderson and Sir Jack Hobbs – but utterly conquered by Bradman, Warnie, Steve Waugh & Ponting. Enough.

When our Prop’s Committee sit down after training to discuss the great Musicals, Movies and Theatre of our time, it would not be an exaggeration for them to place Britain on the top shelf. Your legacy in this field is unparalleled. One loosehead commented that Andrew Lloyd Weber was responsible for another ‘British Invasion’. His entertainment has consistently thrilled audiences around the globe.

The haunting Phantom of the Opera & bewitching Cats, the captivating Evita. Congratulations and felicitations all round! And probably nothing compares to James Bond. Throw in Lawrence of Arabia, the inspiring Billy Elliot, The English Patient – and its soundtrack, The King’s Speech, the hilarious Life of Brian, enthralling Downton Abbey, or our annual dose of Love Actually and Four Weddings. Ok….maybe Bridget Jones. All exceptional. Standing ovations!

Somehow, from your conservative ‘Hogwart’ schools and colleges, you’ve produced some of our favourite stars…Audrey Hepburn, Lawrence Olivier, Dame Judy Dench & Maggie Smith, Julie Andrews, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Hugh Grant and “Rockstar” Mr Bean.

Each year we are lullabied by the mellifluous voice of your commentator Phil Liggett MBE, compelling us to join Le Tour de France. And without peer, you have given us Sir David Attenborough, an unparalleled gift to our planet!

On the other hand, if we are scouting bold artistic talent, it’s hard to imagine a balanced cinematic world without sparkling ‘Aussiewood’ talents, Kate Blanchett, Nicole, Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana, Paul Hogan, “Mad Max”, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe, Bryan Brown, Naomi or “Thor” Hemsworth. Should we add Baz Lurhmann? And we haven’t even got to Dame Edna, Skippy, Babe or Red Dog. Critical acclaim everywhere! Theatrical Royalty.

No matter sovereign rule or republic, Australians hold great affection for your 96 yr. old Queen HRH. In tribute, we’ve named Queensland and Victoria, either in her honour or ancestral monarchs. Our cities bear the name of some of her favourite public servants. Lord Sydney, Lord Melbourne, Lord Brisbane and Charles Darwin. Ma’am’s unwavering enthusiasm and respect for Australia has been magnificent. The ultimate compliment – to send Charles here to school, hoping he’d learn the running Wallaby game.

However, hand on heart, by consigning us to a remote penal colony somewhere in the southern hemisphere was always going to be risky. The “Rum Rebellion” probably nurtured any ‘wild colonial boy’s’ instinct to survive and conquer. It certainly delivered the legend of “Buckley’s Chance” – the 16 yr. old bricklayer from Marton in Cheshire, an alleged drapery thief, shipped to Van Diemen’s land in Calcutta leg irons, who escaped into the bush for 30 years, resourcefully learning seven indigenous languages to eventually become a peaceful mediator between the Governor and our indigenous tribes from the Darling to the Murray River. Thus, the expression “You’ve got Buckley’s chance!”.

Then, there’s my great, great, great maternal Irish grandfather, Terence Bellew McManus, you despatched to our fatal shores for his loyal uprising against the English at Tipperary.

Captured in Cork, then sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered in Clonmel Tipperary, Terence McManus famously responded to the court from the dock:

“I therefore say, that it is not because I loved England less, but because I loved Ireland more”.

William O’Brien’s testimony sums it up:

“When Terence learned that I had called on the people of Ireland to resist the English oppressions, he hastened (just like a rampaging flanker) to the scene of action…..Our efforts would have been very different from that which we experienced if an Irish army had been assembled consisting of such men as Terence Bellew McManus. Intrepidity which new no fear – resolution of purpose, directed by intelligence, and accompanied by personal promptitude and prowess….his qualities place the name of McManus in the catalogue of warriors whose deeds have given our country the fame of heroism”.

McManus was granted clemency, thence shipped to Tasmania from which he escaped to thrive in NSW and California, only to be returned to Dublin in a coffin in 1861 where he enjoyed the largest funeral Ireland had ever seen.

The message here is that you unwittingly gave us opportunities to be resourceful and rebellious, all the while developing grit and peerless spirit which we carry into every match.

Ok, you gave the world Ronnie Biggs – ‘Great Train Robbery’ – and Jack the Ripper. …Can we raise the stakes with Ned Kelly and his gang stealing ‘turnovers’ on horseback. And Jack De Groot’s blindside run on his steed at the opening of the Harbour Bridge? More recently Melissa Caddick’s Ponzi scheme – sans pied?

Sure, we all have some convict heritage however Aussies know how to ‘shirtfront’ the Establishment or ‘cattledog’ the opposition when appropriate. Wallabies know droughts, floods, mouse-plagues and bushfires, characteristically bouncing back with Aussie resilience. So, beware Eddie… pack your mouthguards. You may have “Buckley’s”!

England's Director of Rugby Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones (Photo by Bob Bradford – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Please excuse us if our work ethic or aspiration to succeed comes across as overzealous or modestly competitive.

True, but to atone, be assured that for many decades, most of our backline players have cherished any opportunity to visit your exceptional world class galleries. Frequent discussions on the Wallaby team bus expose unbridled joy and enthusiasm for seeing John Waterhouse’s 1888 “Lady of Shallot” or John Millais’ “Ophelia” at the Tate Gallery; Francis Bacon’s works, Hogarth’s moral tones in “A Harlot’s Progress”, Constable’s wonderful landscapes which include “The Hay Wain” or Joseph Turner’s watercolours “Steamer in Snowstorm” & “The Fighting Temeraire” in the Royal Academy. Uplifting! No surprise that our World Champion Women’s Sevens Team have a preference for Banksy’s brilliant “Balloon Girl” on Waterloo Bridge.

Undoubtedly, there is a tenuous link between your masters and Australian post-impressionist painters. Each of Tom Robert’s works “Shearing the Rams”, “Bailed Up” and “Golden Fleece” are ‘musts’ while you are here. Frederick McCubbin produced national artistic treasures such as “Lost” and “On the Wallaby Track”.

Arthur Streeton’s “Purple Noon” overlooking the Hawkesbury River towards the Blue Mountains is mesmerizing, and equally, his 1891 defining image of Australia “Fires On”. If you extend your visa, you’ll be delighted to discover Grace Cossington, William Dobell, Albert Namatjira, Gloria Petyarre and Sydney Nolan. Brett Whiteley’s ‘trippy’ paintings are a ‘tour de force’. Among his magical best are “Alchemy” and his 1974 jewel “Henri’s Armchair”.

At Rugby School in 1823, when William Webb Ellis scooped up the pig’s bladder to take a run, he forecast a hint of the famous Aussie Running game. 200 years after Cook’s settlement, the Ella brothers used their silky hands and dazzling footwork to confound your game plans. It continues. Double fist-pump here!

Our unselfish Wallaby forwards thrive on passion, pride, communication and conviction. To a man, they can tear meat from the bone or sing in tune for an altar-boys’ choir. Again and again, they have proved to be the complete all-round package.

The secret? New Age. They’re emotionally ‘in touch’. So, while the patrician English ‘stiff upper lip’ and stoicism may have served your teams well, Eddie Jones knows it no longer cuts the mustard in the modern game. Even sensitive new age legends Kearnsy and Ealesy have admitted to ‘tearful ecstasy’ when they hear Peter Allen’s “Tenterfield Saddler” or “I Still Call Australia Home” or Beethoven’s 1803 Symphony No 3 “Eroica”. Our entire backline has been caught sobbing in the sheds at the sound of Gang Gajang’s:
“Out on the patio we’d sit,
And the humidity we’d breathe,
We’d watch the lightning crack over cane fields
Laugh and think, this is Australia”.
Beware…Be afraid.
Before signing off, a respectful nod to our Wallaby legends who have graced the wonderful game …my relative Dally M, Trevor Marks, Cyril Towers Terry Curley, Kenny C, John Thornett, Ken Thornett, Hippy, Slacky, Tony Shaw, Reg S, Topo, Buddha, Link, Ealesy, Poido, Nick Farr-Jones, Skylab, Toutai, Noddy, Stirling, Campo, the silky Ellas, wingers Ben & Joe, Jimmy, Marty & Luco, Pappy, Bam-Bam, Kurtley, Timmy H and Jason, Timmy G, Tim Lane, George, Herbs, Matty B, Kearnsy, Bernie, Fitzy, Adam AC, Drew, & our other George!

Australian captain John Eales (C) and his teammates celebrate after winning the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup final against France. Australia won the final 35 to 12. (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Australian captain John Eales (C) and his teammates celebrate after winning the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup final against France. Australia won the final 35 to 12. (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Some of our inspirational female Walleroos include Shannon Parry, Sharni Williams, Liz Path, Charlotte Caslick, Karia Clay, Ella Green, Demi Hayes, Grace Hamilton and Faith Nathan. It’s said that our Wallaroos still source their lineout calls from Shakespeare’s sonnets and Isaac Newton’s Calculus.

So, brothers and sisters in Rugby, it’s game on – The Perth, Brisbane & Sydney crowds are ready to make you welcome. Too late to Brexit-off now. If the scores are locked at fulltime between the British Bulldog and the Australian Kelpie, I’d put the house and farm on Red Dog to win!

Best of luck!

Written by Peter J Ireland – Rugby player, Rugby Coach, Rugby Referee, Rugby-Dad, Rugby Grand-Dad, Rugby ‘has-been’ and Rugby Tragic! June 2022.

Footnote: The world’s oldest football (non-Gilbert) was found in the bedroom of Mary Queen of Scots mid 16th century.

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