Banner image

Author

Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Tuesday, November 22nd 2022

Alan Morley on beating the Boks, a rapid rise and a try-scoring England debut

With 383 tries in 520 appearances for Bristol, the legendary Alan Morley’s strike rate in club colours was remarkable – but perhaps equally incredible was his rise to prominence on the international scene, culminating in a try-scoring Test debut against the Springboks in 1972.

Morley, making his international bow under the captaincy of Bristol teammate John Pullin, scored England’s only try in an 18-9 victory in Johannesburg – just seven months after starting the season in Bristol’s second XV.

Two years later, Morley was back in South Africa, this time as a British & Irish Lion – and the flying winger, who holds the world record for the number of tries scored in first-class rugby with 479, has fond memories of his time touring ‘a great rugby country.’

“In the lead-up to my debut, I recall that in the 1971/72 campaign, I started mainly in the Bristol second team, flitting between the first and second team for the first part of the season,” says Morley, reflecting on a memorable period of his playing days.

“I was then fortunately picked to play for Gloucestershire in the County Championship and that year we won the trophy for the first time for some 35 years - from my performances for Gloucestershire, the England selectors noticed me and made me a reserve for the South African tour.

“Weeks later, I was in the clubhouse after playing against Harlequins and Alec Lewis, the chairman of England selectors, approached me and confirmed that Keith Fielding had dislocated his elbow and that I would replace him.

“I had basically gone from Bristol's second XV to international rugby in just seven months! The tour was not welcomed by all because of the apartheid status in South Africa and I believe we were the first international rugby team to play against non-white teams, which in those times was a big deal.”

England had headed into that tour off the back of losing all their matches in the Five Nations, leading many, including Morley, to believe the challenge ahead of them to be a steep one.

“The team for the international was announced on a Wednesday and I didn’t let my father and mother know because I knew they would catch a flight and as I, like most of us, assumed we would get hammered, even though up until then we were undefeated on the tour,” explains Morley.

“On the morning of the match, we had certain ex-pat players join us for the pre-match lunch to boost our morale - and I recall a certain former Lions winger tell me, a 21-year-old making my debut against the country many regarded as world’s best at the time, that I was lucky to be playing! What a w****r!

“That spurred me on and calmed my nerves slightly. I was playing against Gert Muller, a rather large ferocious player whom I was told by many South African fans would break my arm if I tackled him! Talk about delusional people and their superiority complex!

“The try I scored could have easily been disallowed as I hit the corner flag as I grounded the ball after a pass from Jan Webster and a 25-yard dash. The touch judge was a South African, as was the referee, as there were no neutral officials in those days which makes our unbeaten tour an even more amazing achievement.

“It was the first unbeaten rugby tour to South Africa, two years before the Lions’ unbeaten 1974 tour. After the match, there were England players and management in tears, but my plan was to rush back to changing room, grab my tour shirt and exchange it for Gert Muller’s shirt, so I could keep my first international shirt. I was elated.

“A note to that day: the captain was John Pullin, the greatest Bristol player ever and Bristol also provided the two wingers - the great, majestic Peter Knight and myself, a 21-year-old student.

“The South African team were so devastated by the loss that they didn’t turn up for after-match drinks, although they made the dinner! 

“The tour was top quality all the way as rugby was their major sport. We were treated like sports stars and visited schools and attended many functions attended by rugby and government dignitaries.  

“My memories of South Africa are of a great rugby country with passionate supporters, although the obvious apartheid was a shock to me and many others. I personally think our winning tours with both England and the British & Irish Lions playing against black and coloured teams spoke more than words could against the system which existed at that time.” 

Ahead of the 1974 British & Irish Lions tour, the South African apartheid regime was under worldwide condemnation, and the country was banned from the Olympic Games and almost all international sporting events. In defiance of the developing international policy to isolate South Africa, the British and Irish Lions accepted the invitation to tour the country and play a series against the Springboks.

This decision invoked a fierce reaction from the media and the public, but the ‘Invincible’ Lions’ unbeaten tour remains one of the iconic touring team’s greatest-ever results.

“It is still the greatest honour in rugby to play for the Lions and I was extremely blessed to have been called up as a replacement for the final four weeks of the three-month tour,” says Morley.

“I joined a group of players who were on a roll and felt included immediately. I found myself as a 23-year-old rooming and playing with players who were my idols only a few years ago. 

“What I remember vividly was that there seemed a sense of what I initially perceived as arrogance from everyone, I soon realised it was a supreme self-belief in their own ability. It was addictive and the only other time I recall that feeling was with the Bristol side in the 1982/83 season when we won the John Player Cup by beating Leicester.

“Two recollections of that tour were bumping into my mother prior to our game in East London, as I came out of the changing rooms prior to the match. All I remember saying was ‘fancy seeing you here!’ Yes, this time they had flown out to follow me and they had a great tour as well!

“In the final Test match, when we were on for a 22-match Lions winning whitewash, a try scored in the last minutes to win the game was disallowed, so the match ended up drawn. Fergus Slattery the try scorer ‘discussed’ the decision with the SA referee and his response was: “tomorrow you go home, I live here!”  


Latest News

Number Crunch: The Blood and Golds

Number Crunch: The Blood and Golds

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2022

EPCR and Viaplay announce UK partnership for EPCR Challenge Cup

EPCR and Viaplay announce UK partnership for EPCR Challenge Cup

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2022

Challenge Cup throwback: Bears win maiden European title

Challenge Cup throwback: Bears win maiden European title

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2022

Highlights: Bristol Bears 84-12 DMP Sharks

Highlights: Bristol Bears 84-12 DMP Sharks

Posted: Tuesday, December 6th 2022

Also from Bristol Sport

🎟 Emirates FA Cup clash now on priority sale
Football icon

🎟 Emirates FA Cup clash now on priority sale

Tickets are priced from £5 for City's Third Round Emirates FA Cup clash against Swansea City which are now on priority sale.

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2022 • Football

🎥 City wait on Naismith for Millers test
Football icon

🎥 City wait on Naismith for Millers test

Nigel Pearson is hopeful Kal Naismith will be available for Saturday’s Sky Bet Championship resumption at Rotherham United (12.30pm).

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2022 • Football

Listen to our Open Training episode of the Bristol Flyers Podcast
Basketball icon

Listen to our Open Training episode of the Bristol Flyers Podcast

Listen to our Open Training episode of the Bristol Flyers Podcast on all major podcast providers and YouTube.

Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2022 • Basketball

📣 Owers recalled from Gloucester City loan
Football icon

📣 Owers recalled from Gloucester City loan

Midfielder Josh Owers has returned to the Robins from his loan spell at Gloucester City.

Posted: Tuesday, December 6th 2022 • Football

🎁 Donate your shirts to Kitmas
Football icon

🎁 Donate your shirts to Kitmas

City is partnering with Kitmas to provide good quality football kits to children in the UK who may not otherwise receive a Christmas present this year.

Posted: Tuesday, December 6th 2022 • Football