100 Years of Rugby News: Schoolboy goldmine turns fortunes of Australian rugby
By Norm Tasker
By the middle 1970s, the schoolboy production line available to the game, especially to the Sydney clubs, was an absolute goldmine.
The Waratah Shield was a competition open to all secondary schools, and when a trio of young superstars from Matraville High first appeared in the winning team in 1976, it triggered a spectacular rise in the fortunes of both the local Randwick club, and ultimately the Australian team as well.
The final of the Waratah Shield played that year at Coogee Oval drew a crowd estimated at better than 5000, and a 12-6 win by an emerging school like Matraville against a traditional powerhouse like North Sydney announced a significant shift in the game. Nearly 100 teams were entering the Waratah Shield in those days, so the net spread wide.
Matraville won it again in 1977. Their coach Geoff Mould took an Australian Schoolboys team on a tour of Britain later that year, and achieved such a stunning level of performance in an undefeated tour that the shape of Australian Rugby was reset for a decade and more.
The names on that tour speak for themselves -Tony Melrose, the three Ella brothers Mark, Glen and Gary, Michael O’Connor, Michael Hawker, Dominic Vaughan, Chris Roche, Tony D’Arcy all ended up internationals at the senior level. Wally Lewis, later a rugby league Immortal, was on the tour but found it hard to crack the top team.
Mould was a latecomer to rugby coaching and concedes he was a novice when he started with Matraville, but he took in much of the advice that one of the original 1927 Waratahs Cyril Towers would impart to anyone who would listen at the Randwick Rugby club bar.
Much of it was about shallow alignment, relentless backing up and expansive use of the football. Mould tells the story of one game on that tour where the Australians were struggling at half-time, just a few points ahead.
“They’ll win by 40,” an old-timer in the stand volunteered.
When asked what made him say that he responded wistfully, “I’ve seen this team play before, back in 1927.”
He was referring of course to the Waratahs who made such an impact on a highly successful tour of Britain between the two world wars.