Queanbeyan's Peter Ryan reflects on Wallabies spirit

Former Wallabies player and Queanbeyan Whites legend Peter Ryan outside his Canberra home with his Whites cap and Brumbies football, signed by each member of the squad. Photo: Andrew Knezevic.
Inset: Ryan with his Wallabies jersey and cap.

Former Wallabies player and Queanbeyan Whites legend Peter Ryan outside his Canberra home with his Whites cap and Brumbies football, signed by each member of the squad. Photo: Andrew Knezevic. Inset: Ryan with his Wallabies jersey and cap.

RUGBY union did not become a professional sport until 1996, but for one of Queanbeyan's own former Wallabies players it was the camaraderie and spirit of the national squad before this time that lead them to some of their greatest moments.

With big dollars being splashed around the sport in the modern era and Australian players frequently furthering their careers overseas, it has been a harder time for the Wallabies matching the other great rugby nations of New Zealand and South Africa.

There are currently five former Wallabies players based in Europe who would otherwise be available for national duties, including James O'Connor, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Digby Ioane and Sitaleki Timani.

Last year's Wallabies skipper and current ACT Brumbies leader Ben Mowen has also been overlooked for Wallabies selection this year due to signing a contract with French club Montpellier.

For this year's endeavours the green and gold will not be helped by their mounting casualty ward as well, with Quade Cooper, David Pocock, Kyle Goodwin, Joe Tomane, Chris Feauai-Sautia and Peter Betham potential Wallabies unavailable for selection.

Peter Ryan, a Queanbeyan-born Whites club junior player, represented the green and gold in 1963 and 1966, but his days as a member of a Wallabies squad that defeated the Springboks twice and the English side were far different to those experienced now.

"You really need a good team spirit to survive," Ryan, 74, said.

While stability in the current Wallabies side is well and truly on the mend, with Australian coach Ewen McKenzie at the helm and having won their last seven tests, Ryan was critical of the Australian Rugby Union appointing New Zealand-born former coach Robbie Deans.

He believed this created an imbalance that tore the squad in half.

"I thought it was always a mistake hiring Dean as he was not Australian born," said Ryan.

"There was obviously mixed feelings about him in the squad and that's why Quade Cooper publicly announced there was a problem."

"Having come across from New Zealand where he had some of the world's best rugby players, he came here where more work was needed to be done, and couldn't quite get there."

"I do like Ewen McKenzie. He's a great coach and it seems like he has fixed all the personality clashes that existed before."

Ryan was one of the best fullbacks of his time, and is best known for scoring 18 points in one game on tour in South Africa in 1963 against provincial side Boland which was arguably his greatest game.

He played in four test matches, one against England and South Africa respectively in 1963, and two against the British and Irish Lions in 1966, but played in 27 matches for the Wallabies including all tour matches.

His men can still to this day lay claim to having the last win over the Springboks at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, a remarkable 11-9 result on August 24 1963.

While Ryan was a great runner of the ball, he was best known for his huge boot, with one ball boy at Queanbeyan's Campese Field once saying to a referee "I don't want to be ball boy anymore. Peter Ryan kicks the ball too far."

Ryan began playing rugby seriously at the Queanbeyan Whites in the 1950's and was part of its first premiership winning side in 1959.

He made his NSW Country debut in 1958 before playing for the ACT in 1961, which lead to his NSW Waratahs debut where he played on a promotional tour of Australia's southern states.

He retired from Wallabies duties after a five month tour of Europe and Canada in early 1967 and finished playing with the Whites a year later.

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