The greatest scrum-halves of all time: Ken Catchpole
One of the greatest scrum-halves to grace the field, it's hard to know where to begin when listing the achievements of Australian, Ken Catchpole
Major teams: Randwick, NSW
Test span: 1961-68
Australia caps: 27 (27 starts)
Test points: 9 (3T)
He captained Australia on his Test debut and 12 other occasions, he set a new standard in scrum-half play, was heralded by Dudley Harrison, the RFU president in 1966, as “the greatest half-back the world has known”, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Twickenham in 2004, the new Australia Rugby Union equivalent in 2005 and the IRB Hall of Fame in 2013. Without a doubt, he is a legend among the legends.
Born in Sydney in 1939, Catchpole was a good schoolboy athlete as well as rugby player. He joined the Randwick club and made his New South Wales debut against the Lions in 1959, aged just 19.
Two years later he was picked to captain Australia for a three-Test series against Fiji – the ninth player to lead a Test side on debut – and over the following eight years he formed a ground-breaking half-back combination with Phil Hawthorne. The sharp service they offered set up many a famous victory during the 1960s and produced a change in style from an age when the backs had spread across the width of the pitch, as this pair employed more short passes and Catchpole used his great speed off the mark to cut through defences.
He was in his pomp in back-to-back wins over South Africa in 1965 and on a tour of the UK, Ireland and France in 1966-67 when he was captain of the Wallabies once more and guided them to a then record 23-11 win over England.
Catchpole’s career came to a premature end just before his 29th birthday when All Blacks lock Colin Meads tried to drag him out of a ruck by one leg – unaware that Catchpole’s other leg was trapped. The Australian tore his hamstring from the bone and ruptured his groin.
Club players in New South Wales still know the Catchpole name well, as every year they vie for the Ken Catchpole Medal, awarded to the winner of a season-long vote by referees.