Remembering 1960’s glorious, gritty victory of the Adelaide University Rugby Union Football Club
In 1960, the Adelaide University Rugby Union Football Club had gone nine long years without winning a Division One premiership.
SA Rugby Union regulations may have been responsible for the club’s lack of success. They stipulated that the University’s first team must consist only of current University of Adelaide students, with the exception of two players who could play for one year after graduating. Week after week, the rule pitted a very young team against opponents who invariably enjoyed a huge advantage in terms of weight and experience.
University nevertheless had a talented side, which included Tony Radford, Jan Staska and Neville Howard, who were all selected to play in a State side against Fiji later in the year. The players were bolstered by a buoyant club spirit that was forged by intervarsity trips and university college competitions, as well as exuberant sessions in City pubs.
In the lead-up to the Division One Grand Final, western suburbs side Woodville were in a strong position, boasting a record of five premierships in six years since 1953 and an undefeated run in the 1960 season. University had played very well through the season to make the finals but were certainly not favourites for the flag.
The match was played in heavy rain for much of both halves on a pitch at Bailey Reserve in Clarence Gardens, the home ground of the South Australian Rugby Union (now RUSA). The surface was characterised by extensive muddy patches rather than flat grass, conditions that were to the forwards’ delight and the backs’ despair.
University seized an early opportunity, going up 5-0 early in the match thanks to a converted try. At the time a try counted for three points, a conversion was two points and a penalty goal was three. Woodville responded with an unconverted try to make the score 5-3.
The Blacks knuckled down, playing with great desperation to retain the lead for the rest of the match. On numerous occasions, University forwards would emerge from a lost scrum or ruck to see the strong Woodville backs attacking the line and threatening to score. Fortunately, the backs were either successfully tackled by University or their attacks were halted by infringements.
Remarkably, University hung on, notching up a memorable victory and inflicting a major upset on Woodville.
Peter Allen and Bruce Debelle, who played for University of Adelaide on the day, remember a hard fought and muddy game, played in wet and slippery conditions. And while not a pretty spectacle or a showcase of skill, the game was loaded with tension. The pair confess that they have little recollection of most of the details sixty years on; even at the time, they say, many of events of the match were lost in an alcoholic fog that followed celebrations of the unexpected win.
They do remember, however, that everyone in the University of Adelaide team was considered to have made a great contribution to the win.
The match constituted a final outing for both team captains. University’s captain, Ron Tan, a wonderful halfback, left on a high, obliged to play for another club in accordance with the SA Rugby rules. By contrast, it was an emotional loss for Woodville’s captain, Wally Scott, a fine sportsman and flanker, who had stated before the match that, win or lose, he was “hanging up his boots”.
The win was the beginning of a purple patch for University of Adelaide: the club went on to win premierships in 1964, ’65 and ’66, by then released from the rule that restricted player recruitment to student ranks.
The glorious victory and the student champions of 1960 were celebrated on Heritage Day at the AURUFC’s Waite Campus home ground on August 15, with Bruce Debelle and Peter Allen both in attendance. The Club Patron, Senator Andrew McFarlane, presented a number of past players from 1960 and 1961 with a bottle of the fine Angove’s Wine in recognition of their achievements, 60 years ago.
Story by Simon Treloar