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The Roar


Representing both sides of the Tasman: Why Des Connor is the greatest Australian halfback

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Roar Guru
21st March, 2024

The number of top class halfbacks produced by Australia and New Zealand is quite astonishing.

Having played the position myself I have a natural affinity with the role and what it entails and who the best exponents are.

It is the best position on the field with opportunities to highlight all of rugby’s skills including running, tackling, kicking and of course passing. Where else would you rather play?

Being involved continuously, possessing the ball and providing a link between forwards and backs are the key attractions.

A feisty, strong personality is de rigueur for the position as your own forwards need controlling and the opposition pack repelled. Nothing like tackling a large number eight coming off the back of the scrum.

A good fast pass, sturdy build, tactical awareness and ability to make a break are key components of the halfback role.

The list of New Zealand halfbacks starts with Chris Laidlaw in the 1960s and ends with Aaron Smith in 2023, in between the production line of exceptional halfbacks included Sid Going, Dave Loveridge, Justin Marshall, Mark Donaldson, Graham Bachop, David Kirk, Byron Kelleher and Piri Weepu.


Will Cam Roigard be added to that list as time goes on?

The Wallabies list includes Ken Catchpole, John Hipwell, Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan and Will Genia. A stunning collection of top players.

One player who was a little before my time but could have been the greatest Wallaby halfback of all time was Des Connor.

He is still remarkably the only player to have pulled on the jerseys of both Australia and New Zealand, which elevates him to legendary status.

Can you imagine say George Gregan back in the day, transferring to New Zealand and being selected for the All Blacks? That is how unique an achievement it was for Connor.

In 1969, the celebrated New Zealand critic Morrie Mackenzie wrote of Connor: “The best halfback in the world from 1958 to 1961 and also the best I ever saw with the exception of (South African) Danie Craven.”

In 2008 Connor was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame and previously in 1999 was chosen in Queensland’s “Team of the Century.”


Spiro Zavos from The Roar in 2008 reflected on Connor: “Life doesn’t get much better when your hero matches every aspect of the admiration you had for him when you meet up with him after the days of his playing glory.”

Desmond Michael Connor was born in 1935 in Ashgrove, Queensland. Even though Marist College was better known as a rugby league school, Connor was in the First XV for three years and then joined the Brothers Club.

Five years playing for Queensland began in 1954 and selection for Australia occurred in 1957.

On the tour of Britain, Ireland and France he made his Test debut versus Wales and then captained his country against the New Zealand Māori later that year.

Connor gained praise from New Zealand fans while playing against the All Blacks on the 1958 tour of New Zealand.

His decision to advance his teaching career in New Zealand rather than the UK in 1960 presented him with the opportunity to represent Auckland as vice-captain in their Ranfurly Shield reign.


Residency regulations were more flexible in those days and after a brief period Des Connor incredibly made his All Blacks debut against France in 1961.

Even more remarkable he was selected as vice-captain for all twelve Tests he played for the All Blacks. Connor possessed a quick, lengthy pass, a good kicking game and was tactically aware. A reverse pass was also part of his repertoire.

He toured Australia as an All Black in 1962 and played against his old team when they toured New Zealand 1964.

Des Connor Rugby

Des Connor Scrum half dive passing behind Scrum. (Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images)

The only defeat he suffered for the All Blacks happened in Wellington against Australia.

A coaching career beckoned when he returned home to Australia, beginning with the Brothers Club followed by Queensland and Australia.

As an innovative thinker Connor introduced the short lineout to the Southern Hemisphere in the home Test series versus New Zealand in 1968.


He went on to manage the 1969 tour to South Africa and the controversial return visit in 1971.

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Was Des Connor the best Wallaby halfback? Those of a certain vintage will have a better idea and we will value their opinion.

He does encounter stiff opposition from modern day players including Genia and Gregan, but the momentous feat of representing both Australia and New Zealand may never be bettered.