What happened to the art of sidestepping?


Ken Wright may not have been the best fullback to represent Australia, but he did something on the rugby pitch that I still remember clearly to this day. It was with great relief that I was able to find video footage of it to remind me of one of rugby’s classic sidesteps.

See it for yourself below. Of course, we didn’t have YouTube at the time, so I was only able to watch it for news highlights, but maybe that made it more special.

He left Brian McKechnie for dead with a lightning step that led to the third of Greg Cornelsen’s four tries. Commentator Keith Quinn aptly described it as “a sidestepping scorcher”.

If you don’t want to be heavily tackled, the side step is the best weapon to beat an opposing player without a hand being imposed on you. And since Wright was a short man, standing 1.7 meters tall and weighing 71 kilos, the brutal method of beating a man was never an option.

He caught the attention of the rugby world when he scored a brilliant individual try for Sydney against the English on tour in 1975. Legend has it that Wright avoided the entire group of England attackers, helping Sydney to a 14 win -10. He made his Test debut for the Wallabies 11 days later, aged 19, against England.

The sidestep is a gift for a rugby player rather than an attacking weapon created through hard work and practice. Three players of yesteryear come to mind: Bryan Williams, David Duckham and Phil Bennett. BeeGee Williams used it to devastating effect on the tough South African pitches in 1970, even avoiding opposing players in the end zone.

Bennett’s highlight reel includes plenty of sidesteps, but the most famous is when he started the move that led to Gareth Edwards’ legendary try for the Barbarians in 1973, including two brilliant sidesteps. In the same match, David Duckham for the Barbarians produced two of the most glorious sidesteps I’ve ever seen – the second, with an outrageous mannequin thrown in, is always thrilling.

Sporting advice issued daily 

   

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Duckham commented that Peter Jackson, an English player, was an influence in the art of circumvention. Bleddyn Williams and Carwyn James, both Welsh, were also early representatives who may have passed on bypass advice. Apparently, All Black Ron Jarden may have been one of the first to practice circumvention, also in the 1950s.

Kenneth James Wright was born in 1956 in Malabar, New South Wales, and attended Marcellin College in Randwick. He began his rugby career with the Randwick club in 1974, playing representative rugby after just four quality games.

Wright was a scintillating teenage rugby star with sensational acceleration and class. His speed may have come from his time at the Coogee Surf Club, where quick starts are key. He was one of the standout players on the Australian Schoolboys’ UK tour in 1973-74. He had excellent rugby brain and tactical vision in kicking, as well as his dazzling side step added to his arsenal.

He played nine international matches for Australia, including a tour of Britain in 1975-76 and a short tour of France and Italy in 1976. While touring New Zealand in 1978, Wright played three unforgettable tests against the All Blacks. With Paul McLean out in the first test, Wright took on goal-kick duties, missing a decisive goal from the penalty spot. The third test came when he brought up the memorable side step, but he also played a part in four of the five tries of the inside center role.

As with many players, there is a peak in their career – think Bryan Williams in South Africa or Jonah Lomu at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Wright was arguably at his peak in 1978. His last test was the third against the All Blacks.

When Ken Wright returned to Australia in 1978, he quit rugby union and changed the codes to rugby league, where he ended up playing five seasons, playing 22 games for the Sydney Roosters from 1979 and 36 times for the Rabbitohs.

β€œIn 1981, when Jack Gibson established the Rugby League Players Association, Ken became the new body’s first player president. A qualified and respected accountant, Ken provided his services free of charge to the Men of the League in the early years,” wrote Barry Ross.

How would a man of Ken Wright’s physical stature fare in the modern game? This is purely a guess, but I guess he would be fine. With this acceleration, it would be difficult to catch up!

Is sidestepping a forgotten art? I know Nehe Milner-Skudder is the one who stood out with his dodging skills, as did Christian Cullen, but they are a thing of the past. Sinoti Sinoti (Samoa) and Telusa Veainu (Tonga) stand out in recent player searches.

If it’s a forgotten skill, why don’t players have it? I don’t have the answer to that now, but Ken Wright certainly did in the 1970s.

He may not be part of the Wallabies’ imagined squads, but he provided some memorable moments in a short but brilliant career. And the possessor of this step aside!

Meet Ken Wright, one of my favorite Wallabies.


Sports Grp2

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