England face Australia at Elland Road on Saturday in the Four Nations final. The last time the national side won a test series, under the Great Britain name, was in 2007 when Tony Smith’s Lions defeated the Kiwis 3-0 in the series.
Since then the closest England have come to winning a series was in 2009, when expectation was high leading up to the Four Nations final, again at Elland Road. A courageous side under Smith fought bravely until the 60th minute when Australia suddenly found another level, and blitzed England out of the game.
While test series’ have in the past come more frequent against New Zealand, excluding the 1972 World Cup no British national side has beaten Australia in a test series since 1970.
In 1970 England travelled to Australia aiming for their first Ashes win since 1962. The tourists featured young stars such as Roger Millward and Mal Reilly and were led by coach Johnny Whiteley They went onto become the most successful touring team to date, winning 22 of their 24 games on Australian soil.
The test series was won 2-1 after Australia won the first match 37-15 at Lang Park. Great Britain’s test victories came at the Sydney Football Ground. Roger Millward scored two tries to ensure Britain were comfortable winners 28-7.
The Australian Allen McKean kicked seven goals to keep the home side in touch of the third test, but Britain scored five tries and outplayed their hosts to win 21-17 in Sydney.
Australia travelled to the UK three years later during the 1973/74 season, and despite losing the first test to Great Briatain at Wembley, the visitors were comfortable victors in the remaining two tests at Leeds and Warrington. Bob Fulton starred for the green and golds, returning to his place of birth in the final test.
Britain returned to Australia at the end of the same season and were whitewashed 3-0 at the same three venues they had visited four years earlier.
As the years passed Great Britain got no closer to winning a series against the Australians. Between 1979 and 1988 Great Britain failed to win a single Ashes test match, never mind the series. The drought came to an end at the Sydney Football Stadium during one of the most memorable and historic matches in Great Britain’s history.
Despite already losing the series, a Mike Gregory led side inspired and coached by Mal Reilly did the impossible and won the third and final test match 26-12. Henderson Gill did “a bit of a boogie” as Mike Gregory ran the length of the field to score one of the greatest British tries in living memory.
Britain followed up their 1988 victory by winning the firs test in the 1990 series. Their only win came at Wembley in a 19-12 victory which saw Gary Schofield’s drop goal give Britain a seven point cushion in the final moments of the game.
Another series loss in 1992 interrupted another test match victory at Wembley in 1994. Shaun Edwards’ dismissal for a high tackle on Bradley Clyde nearly turned the game for Australia, but Britain hung on for 8-4 triumph.
Due to the Super League war in Australia, the next official Ashes test wasn’t until 2001. This is despite the Australian Super League team touring in 1997, a series Great Britain still lost 2-1.
Britain were victorious in the opening 2001 Ashes test match when Paul Sculthorpe crossed twice to give Britain the advantage. However Australia scored 40 points in the second test, and were again comfortable winners in the final test to take out the series 2-1.
Australia travelled to Great Britain yet again two years later, and won the series 3-0 despite a strong British side throwing everything at their opponents.
Adrian Morley was sent off after 12 second of the first test in front of a packed JJB Stadium for a swinging arm on Robbie Kearns, but despite being down to 12 men for 79 minutes and 48 seconds the home side only lost 22-18 after raising their game to make up for their lost prop forward.
The second test saw Australia take their 13th consecutive Ashes series despite another dominant performance from Great Britain. Australia won 23-20, the difference being a Craig Fitzgibbon penalty and Brett Kimmorley drop goal. But there was joy for Britain’s Gary Connolly. Despite 12 years as a Great British international he scored his first for the Lions in what turned out to be his Great Britain swansong.
The final test saw Great Britain demoralised after coming so close to another test match victory. Britain were up 12-6 and with three minutes to go, Michael de Vere crossed to level the scores. Luke Ricketson scored his second try straight from the resulting set of six after the restart, to keep Britain searching for a series win over Australia for at least another 10 years.