written by Sean Fagan

In the decade before World War One the Australian rugby team undertook four overseas adventures. We take a look at the first tours of the Wallabies.

1905 Tour of New Zealand
Captain: Stanley Wickham

Australian team 1905
1905 Australian Rugby tour party

Australia’s first overseas tour was as low-key as one could imagine.

The Aussies arrived in New Zealand for a seven-match campaign (including one Test) that coincided with the All Blacks mounting their first tour of Britain.

Despite the top 29 New Zealanders being absent, the Australians (in maroon and sky blue jerseys) failed to win any of their first four tour matches, and were then beaten 14-3 by what was a third-string All Blacks side.

Australia ended the tour with three victories, including a 10-8 triumph over Auckland in the final match.

1908/09 Tour of Britain, France & North America
Captain: Herbert ‘Paddy’ Moran

1908 Wallabies
‘The First Wallabies’ 1908-09

The famous tour that gave “the Wallabies” their nickname, the Australians played in sky blue jerseys with a waratah emblem as a badge.

The tour opened with a 24-6 win over Victoria at the MCG in Melbourne on the 10th August 1908, and ended in Canada on 24th February 1909. In between thirty games had been played in Great Britain and five in North America.

Of the many tour highlights, the Wallabies were particularly proud of their 32-3 win over ‘England’ in the rugby contest at the 1908 Olympic Games in London. In the eyes of the players their gold-medal win was not in the slightest diminished by ‘England’ being the Cornwall county side, and that no other nation entered.

Scotland and Ireland – who were in the middle of a dispute with the RFU over professionalism – also declined to meet the Australians in any Tests during the tour. It meant the Wallabies biggest games were against England and Wales.

In front of a 30,000 crowd at Cardiff Arms Park in early December 1908, the Aussies put in a strong effort against the Welsh, but were edged out 9-6 by the home side (and perhaps an English referee who ruled in favour of a doubtful Wales try).

A month later Australia met England at Blackheath’s Rectory Field, with a crowd of 18,000 cheering on both sides. With tour skipper Moran absent through injury, half-back Chris McKivat proved to be a more than able commander, rallying the team after English winger Edgar Mobbs scored an early try.

Decade’s before ‘the bomb’ became a league innovation, the Wallabies scored two tries after England’s fullback failed to handle two towering kicks sent his way. The Test ended with Australia 9-3 victors.

To give home fans a chance to see the team in action, the Wallabies played NSW (wearing red jerseys) at the SCG in Sydney in early June 1909. The 20,000 crowd were provided with a 10-try feast, won 22-16 by the Wallabies.

1912 Tour of USA & Canada
Captain: Ward Prentice

1912 'Kangaroo Waratahs'
1912 ‘Kangaroo Waratahs’

In early 1912 the fledgling Californian Rugby Union optimistically issued an invitation to the NSWRU, hoping that they could arrange for an “Australasian” team (combining NSW, Qld & NZ) to tour the USA’s west coast cities.

The NZRU opted against participating in the team, and the 23-man Australian team (four Queenslanders) sailed across the Pacific to San Francisco.

Wearing sky blue jerseys the team was popularly known as the Waratahs (also ‘Kangaroo Waratahs’). Captained by Ward Prentice, the Aussies won 11 of their 16 matches, including a 12-8 victory over the USA in a Test match – it was a fortunate escape given the home side led 8-0 with just ten minutes remaining until full-time.

The tour included games against Stanford University, the University of Nevada and the University of California. Though the Australians were a well-received team, attendances at their matches didn’t exceed 10,000.

In what was the heyday of West Coast rugby, the Australians were amongst the 25,000 fans at the annual Stanford-California clash – the traditional “Big Game” between these universities was played under rugby rules from 1906-1914, reverting to American football after WW1.

The undoubted star of the 1912 tour was Dan Carroll, scoring 19 tries in 13 matches. Carroll made the USA his home, playing an integral role in the American rugby teams that won gold medals at the Olympic Games in 1920 (player-coach) and 1924 (coach). It completed a unique treble for Carroll, a member of the Wallabies team that won the Olympic gold medal in 1908.

1913 Tour of New Zealand
Captain: Larry Dwyer

1913 Australian Rugby team in New Zealand
1913 Australian Rugby tour party

Arriving across the Tasman in late August, the light-blue clad Aussies fell to Auckland 15-13 in the tour opener. After matches against Taranaki (won) and Wanganui (lost), Australia was walloped 30-5 by the All Blacks in the First Test.

In circumstances similar to the 1905 arrangements, and with two Tests against Australia still to be played, a 23-man New Zealand squad then left for a tour of North America.

Despite facing a completely new All Blacks Test XV, reduced of the Dominion’s top players, Australia fell again in the Second Test (25-13 at Dunedin). On a dry track in Christchurch, the Aussies rallied to take the Third Test 16-5.

The Australian team returned home with four victories from its nine matches.

No one could foresee it at the time, but it would not be until 1931 that another full Australian side would again journey away from our shores.

© Sean Fagan