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Opinion

The Wallabies' Revivalists second XV (1920-1939)

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Roar Guru
4th April, 2020
13

Following this era’s first XV, here is the second-choice line-up.

1. Tom Davis
Born 1894, 17 Tests 1920-25, Glebe-Balmain, Sydney Wests and NSW
Davis was a rock of the scrum in the early 1920s. He was totally reliable and whole-hearted, giving non-stop displays every time he took to the pitch.

2. Jock Blackwood
Born 1899, 21 Tests 1922-28, Sydney Easts and NSW
The outstanding hooker of the 1920s. Honest, hardworking, clever. Also tough, durable and a dour customer. A key forward for the 1927-28 team and later a Test selector.

3. Jack Malone
Born 1913, three Tests 1937-38, YMCA, Glebe-Balmain, Manly and NSW
Nicknamed Steak because of his frying-pan hands, Malone only played three Tests, but he was as hard as any man to wear the green and gold.

One of the most amiable of men off the pitch, but tough and uncompromising on it. Despite surviving the war serving in the RAAF, he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1947.

4. Charlie Fox
Born 1898, 17 Tests 1920-28, Glebe-Balmain, Sydney Norths and NSW
The red-haired terrier naturally possessed all the attributes of those with his hair. Outstanding line out forward who was vice-captain of the 1927-28 team. For the remainder of his life, Fox was a forthright guardian of rugby ethics, writing numerous commentaries on the game’s history.

5. Arthur Finlay
Born 1904, 12 Tests 1926-30, SU, Glebe-Balmain and NSW
Nicknamed Huck, which was a play on both his surname and the famous book character Huckleberry Finn, Finlay was a powerful scrummager and excellent in both tight-loose situations. Key forward for 1927-28 Waratahs. Later a teacher and house master Sydney GPS rowing coach.

6. Owen Bridle
Born 1910, 12 Tests 1931-36, Footscray and Victoria
This English-born flyer was an exciting flanker in his time for the Wallabies. Tall, lean and versatile, he and Thorn appear to be completely interchangeable.

7. Ed Thorn
Born 1896, 15 Tests 1922-28, Manly and NSW
Was late into Test rugby, following his younger brother, because he was required for various AIF duties back in Europe. Was noted for his speed around the paddock. As with Bridle, he could probably play both sides of the scrum equally well.

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8. Bob Loudon
Born 1902, 13 Tests 1923-34, Sydney Norths, Manly and NSW
An outstanding technician in everything he did. Although a specialist back-rower, he played his first three Tests in the three-quarters. Speedy, fearless, determined, his performances in South Africa in 1933 drew high praise.

9. Arthur Walker
Born 1893, 16 Tests 1912-24, Sydney Easts and NSW
Nicknamed Wakka, a play on his surname, Walker was yet another outstanding member of the great long line of Wallabies scrumhalves. Noted for his quick thinking and tactical skill. Unfortunately, the Great War took away many of his best years.

10. Billy Sheehan
Born 1903, 16 Tests 1921-28, SU, Randwick and NSW
One of the mercurial, twinkle-footed players we’ve produced. As with so many other players of the period, he was often unavailable due his medical studies.

11. Arthur Wallace
Born 1900, eight Tests 1920-28 (plus nine Tests for Scotland), SU, Glebe-Balmain and NSW
It was tough to leave Wallace out of the top XV, but the competition was so intense. Wallace was the revered leader of the 1927-28 Waratahs, who advocated running the ball at every opportunity (something he learnt from his time in Scotland, when they had a different attitude to rugby). A great tactician and visionary.

Although he played on the wing for the Waratahs and Wallabies, he was named at inside centre and captain for the 125-year anniversary celebration of NSW rugby in 1999.

12. Syd King
Born 1905, 11 Tests 1926-32, Sydney Wests and NSW
Despite his slight physique, King played like a giant. A small, lean man of deadly tackling skill, who also possessed an unselfish but clever ability to set up his outside backs. Formed an outstanding partnership with Towers.

13. Gordon Sturtridge
Born 1906, 1929-33, MU and Victoria
Like Sheehan, Sturtridge could play the 13, 12 and ten positions with equal aplomb and dexterity. His attributes were his sidestep, swerve, change of pace, and dummying skill. He tackled soundly and fearlessly and was a brilliant ball-handler.

14. Eric Ford
Born 1904, seven Tests 1927-30, Glebe-Balmain, Drummoyne and NSW
Established himself as the best winger on the 1927-28 tour, which is saying something, when his skipper Wallace was the other winger. He was the older brother of Jack Ford.

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15. Otto Nothling
Born 1900, 19 Tests 1921-24, SU, Glebe-Balmain and NSW
Nothling’s greatest fame actually comes from cricket, when he replaced the young Don Bradman in the 1928 Test team after the only time he was dropped in his career. This was Nothling’s only Test appearance.

The selectors quickly realised their mistake and reinstated Bradman for the next Test. Nothling played all his rugby in Sydney, but returned home to Queensland to further his cricket career. Nothling was a wonderfully athletic and enterprising fullback, certainly as good as Ross, who followed him.

Honourable mentions

The four players below led the most extraordinary lives. The latter two, Bissett and Barr, were members of the 1939-40 team that travelled by steamship to the UK, which unfortunately berthed the day before UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain declared Great Britain was at war with Germany.

They both played their only game in a Wallabies jersey on their return trip from UK, when they played the British Army XV in Bombay.

Ron Rankin
Born 1914, seven Tests 1936-38, Drummoyne, Randwick and NSW
Sadly, his budding talents were truncated by the war. He was a prolific goal-kicking fullback of the highest calibre. He matured into a marvellously clam player, resourceful and with a dash of brilliance.

In 1946, he hoped to restart his Test rugby career, but a broken leg on the eve of the team touring NZ saw him immediately retire. Was a pilot in World War Two, winning the DFC and France’s Croix de Guerre.

Edward Dunlop
Born 1907, two Tests 1932-34, MU and Victoria
Nicknamed Weary because he always looked tired, Dunlop is one of the most revered figures in Australian history. Weary brought a high intelligence, graciousness and bravery bordering on recklessness to everything he did, from playing for the Wallabies, to being a pillar of society, a revered medical surgeon, and most particularly, a medical officer as a prisoner of war.

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Many prisoners of war owed their lives firstly to Weary’s outstanding surgery skills, and secondly, as a senior officer, to him standing up for his men against Japanese oppression. Victoria was fortunate to have such a man to name so many honours after.

Stan Bissett
Born 1912, tour 1939-40, Power House and Victoria
Bissett was denied playing Test rugby by World War Two. He was undoubtedly good enough. He took out his frustrations at not playing rugby on the 1939-40 tour by becoming an inspiring and fearless officer in the war. From the Middle East to New Guinea, in his role as an intelligence officer, part of his brief was to reconnoitre the coming battlefield as close to the enemy as possible, noting their defensive positions and in particular their strongholds, and return to base without being discovered.

During a lull in fighting on the Kokoda Track, he cradled his dying, mortally wounded older brother in his arms for several hours, as his life slowly ebbed away. Bissett was awarded the military cross for bravery.

Andy Barr
Born 1915, tour 1939-40, Power House and Victoria
Commonly known as Nicky, he was back-up hooker for the 1939-40 tour, having converted from breakaway. Such was his mobility and dexterity around the paddock, it’s most likely he would have ended up as Test hooker, had he been given the opportunity.

Of all the Wallabies who played rugby and fought in a war, Barr’s story is probably the most amazing and incredible of all of them. And boy, that’s saying something. Just consider his bravery awards: military cross, two DFCs and an OBE. Barr was initially a fighter pilot in North Africa, credited with shooting down 12 enemy planes, qualifying him as a war fighter ace.

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He was shot down three times himself, bailing out twice and crash-landing on the other occasion. On the third time he was shot down, he was also captured for the first time, being seriously wounded. He was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Italy where he escaped four times, being recaptured three times, before finally getting away and joining the Italian resistance until the end of the war.

During one of his escapades, about a dozen Allied soldiers and airmen were caught by a German patrol. They were lined up in a row, and the German officer – while pulling out his gun – announced that anyone found with a concealed weapon would be shot dead on the spot.

The guy before Barr, a Kiwi, was immediately shot through the head for possessing a knife. Barr knew his life was about to end, because he was concealing a pistol. Barr was dumbfounded when the Germans didn’t find anything. In all the commotion of being caught, Barr forgot he had lost the pistol, fording a river just before being captured. It took all of Barr’s self control not to collapse from shock.