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'The loping ghost': Tom Lawton Snr was the patriarch of Australia’s greatest rugby family

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Roar Guru
14th May, 2024

Having a great rugby-playing father or grandfather does not guarantee their offspring will emulate their feats.

For those born to greatness, it is often a curse rather than a blessing for sons and daughters who will always be in the shadow of their dominant parentage.

The odds of descendants equalling or bettering their parent’s accomplishments are rare. I think of horse racing where pedigree is not a full guarantee of future success.

Do you think there will be another Winx or Black Caviar in our lifetime?

Winning the lottery has similar odds for hopeful owners. The matching of ideal sires and broodmares to produce a star is more hope than certainty.

For the children of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, an alternative career may be a better bet!

Ryan Fox, son of Grant has made a wise move by establishing his own career in international golf, rather than be always compared to his famous dad in rugby.


But there are families where one or more children go on to build worthy careers in the same field as their parents and have the spotlight shine upon them. One of the great if not the greatest families of Australian rugby is the Lawton family.

Patriarch Tom Lawton Snr was the inspiring figure who paved the way for grandsons Tom Jnr and Rob to also become Wallabies. Tom Jnr played hooker for the Wallabies in 41 appearances from 1983 to 1992. He remarkably scored a try against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in 1984 at the same end of the field as his grandfather had scored 57 years earlier.

“If I had never played another game after that one, I would have been happy,” Tom Jnr reacted in All Black Magic.

Younger brother Rob Lawton, a prop, gained four caps for the Wallabies in 1988. His appearances were limited due to opposition from Enrique Rodriguez, Andy McIntyre, Cameron Lillicrap and Mark Hartill.”

Tom Lawton Snr was born in 1899 in Cungumbogan, Queensland and passed away in 1978, aged 79. He attended Brisbane Grammar School in 1913 where he excelled at cricket, rowing, swimming, athletics and tennis.

According to Lawton was “undoubtedly the greatest sportsman ever at Brisbane Grammar School.”

After the First World War, he attended the University of Queensland where he played rugby league when union was unavailable. Lawton then moved to Sydney University in 1920 where he represented NSW opposing the All Blacks.


A move to Oxford University followed when he won a Rhodes Scholarship and played for the University. In 1924 he was named captain of Oxford but was challenged on the grounds he had played rugby league.

In 1925 Tom Lawton returned to Sydney, named as captain of NSW against the All Blacks. He was then selected for their mammoth tour of Britain, France and Canada in 1927-28, where he was the top points scorer and overall star of the team. He impressed with his debonair style and popularity.

Lawton played on tour with a relaxed style and was attached to the “Loping Ghost” nickname. The long-striding flyhalf gave the impression of being a slow runner but evaded tacklers, bringing comparative thoughts of Stephen Larkham.

He then achieved his greatest moment when captaining Australia versus New Zealand in 1929 to a 3-0 whitewash against the old foe. Lawton played the role of an astute tactician.

His goal-kicking ability and tactical kicking proved decisive. A victorious Test in 1930 opposing the British Lions followed and then the curtain came down on his career in 1932 against the All Blacks, aged 33 years.

After retiring instead of living a glamorous life, he became a recluse on a small farm on Mt Nebo in the Brisbane hinterland. His wife passed away and Lawton was enticed back to Brisbane by his family where he lived for three years before passing away in 1978.


In 2007 he was inducted into the Australian Rugby Hall of Fame and in 2013 the IRB Hall of Fame, acknowledging his reputation as one of Australia’s greatest flyhalves.

Jack Pollard from his book “Australian Rugby Union: the Game and the Players” noted that he was a magnificent handler, gathering and passing faultlessly, blessed with a calm temperament, fast reflexes, and lovely balance.

He did not appear to do things in a hurry but always had time to spare. There have been few quicker or safer tactical kickers, and fewer still who got past good tacklers so effortlessly.

In the All Black Magic book he was named the “Overseas Player of the Decade 1923-32.”

According to RUPA, The Tommy Lawton Scholarship to Oxford University is awarded to players “who demonstrate similar characteristics of leadership, strong work ethic, adaptability and life balance whilst displaying both academic excellence and the personal characteristics of the late Tommy Lawton”.

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To be a part of the Waratahs style of running rugby you must be a certain type of player and Tom Lawton Snr was decreed that upon the return of the Waratahs from their 1927-28 tour.

Their style of play was just as important as the winning.