A FEATURE OF THE mighty St George sides of 1956–66 was the famed brickwall defence. In the 1956 grand final, Brian Staunton scored Balmain’s two tries in their 18–12 loss to the Dragons. Saints would concede just three more grand final tries in the next decade: one each by Manly’s Peter Burke in 1957, Wests’ Darcy Russell in 1958 and Wests’ Gil MacDougall in 1963.
In Never Before, Never Again, Ian Walsh, who joined St George in 1962 and was captain-coach in 1966, explained how this defensive juggernaut operated …
‘You had your forwards and inside backs all running up flat out in a line beside each other, the bloke on the outside a little bit in front of the man inside him to create an umbrella effect. Opposition players would be driven back inside into the middle of our ruck where they would be dealt with.
‘Depending on play, the wingers would come in and inflict terrible damage on the outside centre, or hang back to help the fullback, and the cover-defending lock mopped up any rare breaks that came against us. Clay was a master of tearing up on his opposite number and sending him scurrying back among the forwards. Sometimes the poor fellow would be panicked into a silly kick to try to save his skin.
‘Gasnier and Riley were adept at moving up fast slightly on the outside of their man and herding him back infield. Graeme Langlands once played an entire grand final without making a tackle.
‘As for forward defence positions, if you were a left second rower, you hunted in defence with your left front-row partner on the left side of the ruck. The right prop and second rower would patrol the right of the ruck. As hooker, the centre of the ruck was my responsibility. The first couple of metres off the ruck was the prop’s and a few wider still, the second rower’s. Raper would sweep in cover.’