Former British Lions winger John Bentley fondly remembers the last time England beat Australia during the 1995 World Cup. Dave Craven reports.
ASK anyone about John Bentley and, invariably, the first thing people mention is THAT try for the British Lions on their 1997 tour of South Africa.
Without doubt, it was a remarkable score and there is no chance the winger will ever forget it. Or be allowed to even if he wanted to.
However, before that memorable night in Johannesburg , the gregarious Yorkshireman had also unwittingly played his part in another piece of history.
Bentley would not have known it at the time but, as he helped England beat Australia 20-16 in their 1995 World Cup opener at Wembley, it would prove to be the last time any such side defeated the Kangaroos.
Now, 21 years later, Wayne Bennett’s England face their old rivals at London Stadium tomorrow knowing they simply must finally end that pitiful record to have any hope of reaching next Sunday’s Four Nations final.
It is, of course, even longer since a major tournament win from a side from these shores, Great Britain lifting the World Cup in 1972. The England side of ’95 – Shaun Edwards, Martin Offiah, Andy Farrell et al – could not back-up their earlier group win against the Kangaroos and actually lost 16-8 in the final re-match at Wembley.
Bentley did not play in that game – he was injured earlier in the tournament – but the former Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield wideman can reflect on that first, monumental victory that raised hopes so high.
It was an injury to the prolific Offiah that actually saw him given his chance by coach Phil Larder.
Bentley, 50, told The Yorkshire Post: “Offiah was injured but, to be fair, my form at the time was good.
“Yes. you’d assume they’d have picked him over me if he was fit but I was playing well and it was great to be involved in the tournament and that win over the Aussies at Wembley.
“I think they were surprised with the manner in which we played. We were a good side, though, and we went particularly well that day. I don’t remember too much about the match itself, aside from it was tight and the Kangaroos did seem to make a lot of errors.
“We were always quite confident, though, and we got the result.
“I was up against Rod Wishart, the blond-hair winger. They had people like David Gillespie up front – I think he was nicknamed ‘Cement’ – and Brad Fittler and Geoff Toovey in the halves.
“Tim Brasher was at full-back. I’d played with him the year before with Balmain Tigers and actually tried signing him up to come back over with me to Halifax.
“Balmain wouldn’t have it, though, and it never happened.”
A young Steve Menzies – he was just 21 then but weeks short of his 40th birthday when he finally retired with Catalans Dragons in 2013 – scored two tries for the Kangaroos with Mark Coyne also crossing, Wishart kicking two goals.
It wasn’t enough, however, given England scored tries via Farrell, Chris Joynt, Bradford Bulls centre Paul Newlove and Bentley’s genius fellow winger Jason Robinson, Farrell kicking a couple of goals, too.
Bentley, the former policeman who left Sale RU to join Leeds in 1988 but returned to help Newcastle Falcons win the Premiership in 1996, added: “Going into the competition, first and foremost it was a great World Cup, really well organised and a great geographical spread. It was extremely well-supported and the sides were properly represented – Wales had Welshmen in, for example, not a bunch of Aussies.
“To have the opener at Wembley was fantastic. We even had Diana Ross opening it up for us.
“Ultimately, though, at the end of the day, it’s not getting to the final, it’s winning it that counts and we just fell short of that when we faced the Aussies next time around.”
Now working at Yorkshire Carnegie as business development manager, Bentley will cast an eye over tomorrow’s Four Nations game and will be in the capital today to see England’s rugby union side - who he also represented - face South Africa.
“It’s an important game tomorrow for England,” he said, before referencing Bennett’s ongoing battles with the media.
“All the talk has been about Wayne Bennett and what he’s done in some TV interviews. He probably has let himself down and the sport with how he acted.
“My experiences from Australians I’ve dealt with who are involved in the game are that they are always extremely positive and they see the bigger picture.
“Brian Smith, Tony Smith, Matty Elliott...they have always been really receptive and tried to be positive.
“Sometimes it is hard to talk straight after a game and I don’t think Bennett is actually far off the mark with what he said last week after that Scotland game.
“But I suppose it’s the way he said it that upset some people and some of it could have been taken out of context. The important thing now is getting that result.”