Erica leaves her mark on rugby history
January 2, 1982
Maurice Colclough and Bill Beaumont leap for the ball against Australia
© PA Photos
England beat Australia in a game of high quality, played in dreadful conditions. It was a match best remembered by many, however, for the unscheduled entertainment provided by Erica Roe.
Drink-fuelled Roe emerged topless from the south stand at half time, cheerfully treating the crowd and the teams to what the BBC described as "perhaps the most famous of all streaks". Having taken the day off sick from her job in a Petersfield bookshop, she had some explaining to do when her image appeared on many front pages the following morning. The rugby alone, however, was spectacular enough for the purists.
As in the earlier internationals on their tour, the Wallabies outscored their opponents in terms of tries but were let down by the goal kicking of Paul McLean and the amount of penalties they conceded. This was the 22nd match of a tour that had tested Australia with injuries, inclement weather and a merciless schedule. Tour captain Tony Shaw was dropped, having felled Scotland lock Bill Cuthbertson at Murrayfield a fortnight earlier. No.8 Mark Loane took over the captaincy of a team whose backs promised a fast, running game if their under pressure forwards could provide them with enough decent possession.
England were buoyed in the build-up by captain Bill Beaumont's OBE in the New Year's Honours List, and were quietly confident they were the better side even though weather had prevented any game time for two weeks for the whole team, bar No.8 Bob Hesford. Peter Winterbottom, the aggressive Headingley open-side flanker, made his debut in the back row of an England pack loaded with bulk and experience.
The home team were rusty in the first half, but led 6-3 at the break after two Marcus Rose penalties and one in response from McLean. England's initial plan for Huw Davies to kick the ball behind Australia had foundered on some dicey kicking from the fly half, so Beaumont called for a change to a running and passing game.
The distraction of Roe's streak ruined Beaumont's half-time team talk, interrupted by Peter Wheeler announcing to his captain that: "Some bird has run on to the pitch with your arse on her chest". Roe's exhibition did much to enliven the crowd on a miserably wet and grey afternoon, and England eventually raised their game dramatically.
Australia scored first after half time when England's Davies dropped a pass, Michael Hawker hacked the ball downfield and Brendan Moon outwitted and outpaced Mike Slemen to win the race to the line, but from that point on, England dominated.
Maurice Colclough was "quite magnificent" according to Beaumont, England winning 12 lineouts to Australia's five in the second half as pressure built on the tourists' forwards. Steve Smith's service from scrum-half was near perfect, and went some way towards his appointment as captain when Beaumont was forced to retire later that month.
Twelve minutes from time came the turning point. A sustained England attack had ended with Slemen brilliantly tackled into touch by Andrew Slack as he tried to score in the corner. Slemen was led from the field with concussion but England scored a try before Nick Stringer was able to get on the field as replacement. Australia threw long at the resulting lineout and Mark Ella lost control of the ball in front of the posts. The England forwards pounced on Australia's error and after a frenzied series of rucks and mauls, Nick Jeavons lunged over near enough the posts to make Paul Dodge's conversion a formality. England led 12-7.
Erica Roe is carted from the Twickenham turf © PA Photos
With two minutes of normal time remaining, Rose extended the lead to 15-7 with another penalty. Eight points in front, England were safe even when John Hipwell sent Moon over in injury time for his second unconverted try. McLean had missed four of his five kicks at goal in the afternoon.
The tour finale against the Barbarians in Cardiff a week later was cancelled due to heavy snow, and after several days marooned in a Porthcawl hotel the Wallabies were evacuated to Heathrow by helicopter to catch their flight home. The tourists had earned respect and admiration throughout the British Isles and many of them returned to achieve a Grand Slam of the home nations in 1984.
Mickey Steele-Bodger, on behalf of the home unions, saw them off with high praise. He said: "These Wallabies have been the most good-humoured and best mannered touring team we can remember. Although they had their disappointments on the field, as ambassadors they have done themselves and their country proud".
Roe initially lost her job but was swiftly re-instated by a forgiving boss. She later appeared in various television retrospectives and went to farm sweet potatoes in Portugal.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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