IRB Hall of Fame – Induction No.66 – Ken William Catchpole OAM (Randwick DRFC, Sydney RU, NSW, Australia) 1939-

Personal details

– Born: 21 June, 1939 in Paddington, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
– Family: The oldest of two sons of Walter Arthur Catchpole, a wood store clerk, and Bessie Mary Hicks, a dressmaker. His brother Robert (Bob) also played 80 matches for Randwick, either on the wing, at fly-half or wing forward, mostly in the lower grades. He married Penelope Langtree in 1966. They separated in 1976 and subsequently divorced. They had four children, two sons Andrew and Mark - a talented scrum-half who also played for the Waratahs and represented Australia at Sevens – and two daughters Jodie and Sarah. He married June Stephens in 1980, who has two children from a previous marriage, Scott and Emma. They have seven grandchildren between them: Thomas, Jessica and Bella from June’s side and Kai, Ella, Bailey and Bryce from Ken’s.
– Education: He attended Randwick Primary School, Coogee Preparatory School, Scots College and finally Sydney University where he attained a degree in Science, graduating with a BA (Hons). 
– Nickname: Catchy
– Other sports: cricket, swimming, tennis and boxing (mostly during his school years), track and field (800m)

Professional career

He was a research scientist and for many years was Marketing Manager for a food company. He retired in 1988. In retirement he became a well-regarded commentator and pundit for ABC.  

Awards and records

– Elected the best and fairest player at Randwick in 1967.
– Inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.
– As the captain of the Wallabies in their match against England at Twickenham in 1967, he was inducted into the RFU Wall of Fame.
– He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 2001.
– A plaque celebrating his achievements is part of the Walk of Fame at the Sydney Cricket Ground 2001.
– Awarded the Wally Meagher memorial trophy for most outstanding Randwick clubman in 1970.
– One of the original five inductees into the Australian Rugby Hall of Fame in 2005. 
– Elected as one of the four originals of the Rugby Indestructibles award launched by the Australian Inside Rugby magazine alongside Mark Ella, David Campese and Colin Windon.
– One of the seven original ARU Classic Wallabies Statesmen in 2008.
– Voted Sydney’s Greatest Ever Rugby Union Player, at a charity function sponsored by Channel 9 and Daily Telegraph in 2003.
– Elected a member of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust on which he served for 20 years.
– He became a Vice-President of the NSW Rugby Union in 2004-05.
– He was elected President of NSW in 2006-07.
– In 2010, he was present at the unveiling of his bronze statue by Australian sculptor Cathy Weiszman, one of the 10 works of art sponsored for the Sydney Cricket Ground by philanthropist Basil Sellers.
– The Ken Catchpole medal rewards the best player of the Sydney Shute Shield club competition each year
– He is a patron of the Australian Barbarians Club and Sir Roden Cutler charity.
– One of 11 legends inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame at the IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition in Dublin on 18 November, 2013.

Rugby career

– Started playing rugby at the age of 10 at Coogee Prep School. 
– At the age of 12 he started playing for Scots College. He played for the school first XV for three consecutive years (1955-57) and captained the school 1956-57.
– Throughout his career, from school in the early 1950s to his retirement from the game following a terrible accident in the first test against New Zealand in 1968, he played scrum-half. 
– Aged 18 and an University student, he joined the Randwick District RUFC, the Galloping Greens, Under-21s in 1958, rather than play for SUFC.
– He became a member of the Randwick first grade team the following year, when he helped them win the Grand Final.
– He made his debut for New South Wales against the British and Irish Lions in 1959 after only eight first grade matches. This was the first of his 26 appearances for NSW.
– The young scrum-half had a sensational game, scoring one try against Ronnie Dawson’s British and Irish Lions, to help NSW prevail 18-14.
– In 1960 he captained NSW against the visiting New Zealand.  
– He made his international debut as scrum-half and captain of Australia in the first of three tests against Fiji in 1961. He was Wallaby No.455.
– He led the Wallabies on their 1961 tour of South Africa, tour considered by Australian rugby pundits as the beginning of Australia’s great revival. 
– He became captain of Randwick in 1962 and captained them for eight seasons.
– He started his association with fly-half Phil Hawthorne, arguably one of the finest partnerships in international rugby, in the third test against New Zealand in Dunedin in 1962.
– Under the captaincy of John Thornett, the half-backs Catchpole and Hawthorne made a significant contribution to the shared test series with South Africa in 1963 (2-2).
– His performances, alongside the mesmeric Hawthorne, in the sensational Australian win against New Zealand in the third test in 1964 and in the successful test series against South Africa the following year have entered the realm of legend.
– He captained Australia to their first ever win (14-11) over Wales in the first of the five internationals on the 1966-67 tour in December 1966.
– His outstanding contribution in the record 23-11 defeat of England in January 1967 helped the Catchpole legend, as the greatest scrum-half of his era gather momentum. 
– He regained captaincy for the one-off test against Ireland in Sydney, and retained it for the test against New Zealand in Wellington and the Bledisloe Cup series in Australia. 
– However, his international career came to an abrupt end after the first test against New Zealand in 1968, when he was injured in a controversial incident involving Colin Meads.
– Though he was unable to resume his international career after his injury, he went on playing club rugby and was a part of the Randwick team that won the grand final in 1971.

Coaching career

– He coached for a few years at Randwick DRFC after his retirement.

Career records and highlights

– One of 15 Wallabies to have graduated from Scots College in Sydney.
– He made 177 appearances for Randwick between 1959-1968.
– He captained Randwick from 1962-1968 and again in 1971.
– During his time with Randwick, the Galloping Greens won the Sydney Premiership five times in 1959, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1971.
– He made 26 appearances for New South Wales between 1959-1968, scoring seven tries (21 points).
– Captained the Waratahs in 14 matches, of which they won 11, lost two and drew one - a 78.57 per cent winning record.
– He made two appearances for Sydney. 
– Aged 22, he led Australia against Fiji on 10 June, 1961, becoming the second youngest captain of his country.
– He captained Australia 13 times – six times at the beginning of his Test career and seven times at the end of it when he took over from John Thornett on the 1966-67 tour of Europe (4) and after the retirement of the formidable front-rower (3).
– He captained Australia before and after John Thornett, until his injury in 1968.
– The two wins against South Africa in the second and third test in 1965, in which both Catchpole and Phil Hawthorne played such a big part, was the first time South Africa lost two consecutive Tests in the 20th century.
– He was the scrum-half of the 1965 Australian team that defeated South Africa in both tests in Sydney and Brisbane, the first time Australia had won a test series against South Africa.
– Catchpole led Australia to their first ever win over Wales on the 1966-67 tour.
– In the 1967 test at Twickenham, with captain Catchpole playing a strong game, Australia defeated England 23-11, the biggest score since the opening of Twickenham in 1910. Furthermore, serviced by Catchpole’s impeccable pass, his half-back partner Hawthorne had also produced a memorable performance scoring, at the time, an Australian record of three drop goals. 

What he said

“All my thinking, when I was moving in to collect a ball from my forwards, was about the positioning of my feet so that I always reached for the ball on the side of my body away from my backs.”

“The reason why rugby was important to me was that it had a number of benefits, some of which you discover later ... after you play ... The important thing from my point of view was it was a personal challenge. The game was a personal challenge….The benefit as a Wallaby also was that you toured. You went to other countries, other cultures, and that was a great education. And the people you played with often remained friends for life.”

“I remember the atmosphere in that marvellous stadium [Twickenham] and the enthusiasm in the stands, the front rows of which were very close to the touchlines. The Twickenham pitch itself was nothing like modern-day pitches. As I recall, it was fairly uneven, undulating almost, but it was clearly very well looked after. As for the match, I just remember it being pretty tight and very tough. I know when the whistle went we were delighted to have beaten England.”

What they said

Jack Pollard (rugby historian and writer): “One of the all-time great rugby half-backs, Catchpole had a marvellous long pass either side, which is scooped straight from the ground with unerring accuracy and gave his inside backs vital moments in which to initiate attacks.”

Sir Terry McLean (rugby writer): “Catchpole I rate for many reasons which start with courage and end with loyalty to the game.”

John Reason (rugby writer): “Catchpole was a superb footballer and as a reader of the game he was way up in the Mensa class. Immensa ... in fact. But the basis of his scrum-half supremacy was the speed of his pass. He delivered the ball to his fly-half so fast that the sun promptly burst forth on the entire back division and allowed everything therein to flower, because he gave them time and he gave them space.”

Spiros Zavos (rugby writer): Ken Catchpole’s first Test against the All Blacks was in 1962, the year of the first home and away series between Australia and New Zealand. The Wallabies wore their gold jerseys for the first time in this series as a sign, perhaps, of the half-back with the golden touch who was captaining the side.”

Dai Llewellyn (rugby writer for the RFU website - Twickenham “Wall of Fame”): “Wallaby scrum-half Ken Catchpole was a decade or two ahead of his time. While he eschewed the dive pass, he possessed a stunning delivery where pace and perfect timing gave the receiver yards more space and precious extra seconds to do their worst. The fifth Wallabies, like their predecessors in 1958, also packed a hell of a punch, but of a more legitimate kind. A key element of that force was Catchpole. He personified the philosophy of the 1967 Australians, which was to play open, running rugby. It cost them at times on that tour, but they still beat the two teams they really wanted to beat – Wales and England, the latter by a handsome margin. In fact the 23 points they amassed was the most England had conceded at Headquarters since the first international in 1910.”

Spiros Zavos (rugby Writer in The Roar of 15 September, 2010 after the unveiling of the Ken Catchpole statue at the Sydney Cricket Ground): “When the black veil was pulled off, it revealed Ken Catchpole in a characteristic pose: his back foot was planted, the ball is being passed out to his backs with his two hands, his head is up, and his eyes are on the receiver. In your mind’s eye, after seeing this superb recreation by the sculptor Kathy Weiszman, you can see the neat and intense figure of Catchpole’s long-time partner in carving up the most aggressive of defences, Phil Hawthorne, receiving an undroppable ball placed just ahead of him so he can take it on the run and start off another attack. You have to be a bit of ancient to have seen Catchpole, the champion, in his glory days. He was small but extremely tough, quicksilver fast, brainy and a player of tremendous endurance, a bit like the battery that never runs down. As a schoolboy at Scots College he excelled in rugby and as an 800 yards runner. This is where the endurance came from that saw him make last-ditch tackles to knock opposition wingers over in the corner or be as alert to a counter-attack from the base of the scrum in the last minutes of a Test as he was in the first few minutes.”

Chris Laidlaw (New Zealand scrum-half): “Others have made contributions to techniques in passing, kicking and running, but as the supreme exponent of all the skills Catchpole stands beyond rivalry ... His pass was never long – he considered it a waste of time. It was, however, phenomenally fast and his technique of delivery perfect. No elegant dive pass, no laboured swivel to avoid passing off the weak arm – just a flash of light to his fly-half.”

Norman Tasker (journalist and author): “Catchpole was one of those rare geniuses, a scrum-half gifted with extraordinary speed and slickness, and that instinctive flair for doing something impossible with almost casual perfection.”