I spoke to Malcolm Reilly OBE, the former Great Britain coach, for Thirteen in 2005 in the build-up to the 2005 Tri-Nations about some of the highlights of his own international career.
1970 tour of Australasia & last Ashes win:
First of all, it was the most exciting time of my career. We bonded and gelled as a unit. Obviously, I was nervous and tentative at the start but Johnny Whiteley, the coach, was a first-class guy although I thought the selection was wrong in the first Test that we lost. It was a tough encounter and a pretty bloody affair. But there was no question we could turn it around as we had the players. We just had to get the selection right.
They were great games and the Australian crowds were very intimidating. We levelled it up beating them 28-7 in Sydney with Roger Millward scoring twice and in the third Test we got hammered in the penalty count but still dominated. They only scored one try, from a kick through which was offside. It wasn’t as close as the score suggested.
Australia had some great players like Ron Coote, Arthur Beetson, Graeme Langlands, Bob McArthy and of course Bob Fulton. Bob was outstanding and a year later I was playing with him at Manly.
1970 World Cup – Great Britain dominate group stage but Australia scrape through:
Yes, we won our games and we beat them at Leeds but in the final we got our tactics wrong. We tried to physically knock them down and we should have played more football. John Atkinson had that altercation with Father John Cootes after the final whistle. Tactically we didn’t play to our best. Maybe there was some complacency due to the Ashes win and the group-stage games.
Third Ashes Test 1988:
The first game was fairly close and we were winning at half time but then Sam Backo scored and Sterling and Lewis picked up their games and they won it 17-6. In the second Test in Brisbane, the tactics were all wrong. The trouble was I probably went over the top with the motivational side of things and our hearts ruled our heads. We gave away too many penalties. You’d have thought the morale of the side would have been down especially given the injuries but it wasn’t. We knew that as a unit we could play better and we knew we could beat them and we did in that third Test when we put it all together.
It was a great result. We couldn’t train with a full team until two days before the games and players had to play with injuries. The Hulme brothers filled in at hooker and stand-off and Phil Ford was outstanding then of course there was the Henderson Gill try and that huge grin.
Steve Hampson send off 1989 and 2-1 series win:
We didn’t get the selection right in the first game. Unless you coach someone week-in week-out in club football you don’t always know how mentally tough they are and how prepared they are to give that extra yard. I selected one or two who weren’t up to it and we got touched up. In the second test at Elland Road, we kicked down after the first set and Gary Freeman had the ball in his own in-goal area. Steve Hampson headbutted him and got sent off. Gary was a bit of a nark and he was probably verballing Steve but you don’t lose it like that. So, the guys really had to stand up. I remember having a fall out with Andy Goodway in a pre-match team meeting because he’d turned up late. I didn’t think his attitude was as it should have been but he moved into the centres from the back-row after the sending-off and had a great game, winning man of the match and scoring two tries. Then we went on to win the series.
First and Second Ashes Test 1990:
We’d had that good win in Sydney and then we’d beaten New Zealand 2-1 in 1989 so we were in good shape but, jeez, that one in Manchester we should have won. I don’t like criticising people but when Paul Loughlin took that interception off Ricky Stuart he let Laurie Daley run him out to nearer the touchline. He knew he was going to score but if he’d put that extra effort in then he’d have been much nearer the posts. He was our kicker but because he’d scored the try, he didn’t want to take it so it was left to the left-footed Paul Eastwood to kick it from his wrong side and he missed. Had we gone 12-10 up, we’d have grown an extra leg and won the Ashes in my opinion. Ellery that day had an outstanding game. He put himself all over the park and there wasn’t the energy to stop the break after Stuart threw that outrageous dummy and made that break for Meninga to score. But, even so, Meninga stopped Carl Gibson getting across to cover Stuart. With today’s technology, they’d have pulled that back for the infringement. That loss deflated us after we’d got so close.
We had a good squad back then and they gelled. We put the belief into them and the 1988 win in Sydney provided a lot of confidence. I’m very proud to be associated with that period and I was sad to resign but I got the chance to coach in Australia. If I hadn’t taken it might not have happened again and I’ve got some great memories of that too. It justified itself but I regret not being able to beat Australia in a series.
Series wins over New Zealand in 1990 and 1993:
We were very strong then and the confidence was flowing. We worried them a little bit because we’d taken a young side over there in 1990. I took Bobbie Goulding out of the Wigan second string and he forged a good relationship with Garry Schofield, who had been moved to six from centre. We weren’t expected to do well but we won the first two tests and should have won the third. We won the first 11-10 then Martin Offiah had a big say in the second with an important try. So we had the measure of them and beat them 3-0 in 1993 and they still had guys like Freeman, the Iro brothers and Gary Mercer.
What do we have to do to find success again at international level?
We’ve got to do something about our domestic competition by injecting more young talent. We have to take a leaf out of the Australian competition. Junior development over there is tremendous while we’re importing more and more overseas players. We’re still knocking walls down here while they’re running round them over there with creating second phase football and with a skill level we’ve not seen for a long time but nevertheless. We’ve got to throw caution to the wind and exhibit a lot of open football.