The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
3. The Decline 1930—1945
3. The Decline 1930—1945
Two great years were over. Victoria College Rugby, from its vigorous state, declined, as so often before and since, without delay or explanation, and in 1930 the Club tasted the bitterness of occupying last place. Not even the success of Ramson, Blacker, Mackay and Diederich, who all gained places in representative teams was much consolation. Success by the team was the only anodyne, and this looked within grasp in the early part of 1931, when the first four matches in a row were won. But then the demands of the New Zealand University side—Mackay, Diederich, Dixon and J. H, Rum—and injuries, took too great a toll. Nevertheless Mackay was reserve back for New Zealand, besides being a fellow-member (of provincial teams), with Diederich, Blacker, Ruru and F. Cormack, and Ruru played for New Zealand Maoris.
The slump was a contributing factor. The First XV struggled on, recording an occasional win, and deriving consolation from the seven teams that the large membership had allowed, and the success of the Fourth Grade side which was, for the second time in succession, runner-up in its grade. Diederich and N. Hislop were both Wellington players, maintaining the long and honourable tradition.
1933 found the Club for the first time since 1905 out of the top grade and playing in the Second Division, a relegation which was a severe blow, but which did not prevent C. M. Ongley and J. Wells from appearing in Wellington teams, and Diederich, Wells and W. A. Edwards from being selected in the New Zealand University side. These honours, coupled with the completion of the new practice ground behind the Gymnasium, and the defeat of Australian Universities by 21 to 15 restored a little of the waning confidence, and plans for 1934 were early under way. Plans became reality in the next year, when the First XV, after some hard games, was reinstated in the first grade, the Third Grade "C" team won its competition, and the Fourth Grade team followed suit. The tragic death of Ruru, the Club's only provincial player of the year, took away much of the sparkle resultant from the success, and Ruru's fellow-players turned their thoughts for a time to the provision of a suitable memorial for that great footballer. The Ruru Shield, purchased with the money raised, was allotted for annual competition to the match between Weir House and the Rest of the College, the latter being the first winners (1936).
Once more, however, in 1935, the First XV was placed in the Second Division of the Senior "A"grade, where it began rather badly. A bad beginning came to a good ending, for the numerical strength was great (seven teams were entered) and the First XV, improving as the season progressed, finally occupied third place on the ladder. Of its members Blacker, E. R. Chesterman and G. G. Rae were selected for provincial teams, while the greatly-coveted honour of a place in the New Zealand University side which sailed on December 23rd for Japan was gained by Rae, Chesterman, Eade, H. R. C. Wild and W. Trickle-bank. Once again the season's limelight was stolen by the exceptionally strong Third Grade "C" team, which, for the second year in succession carried off the honours in its competition, thereby emulating the feat of the First XV in the great years.
Not content with emulation, they passed next season to eminence, for in 1936 they became the first Victoria College team to win their grade in three successive years. This year too saw a most important innovation. The first (if we except the single trial played in 1908) inter-Island Universities match took place in Wellington, and was won by South by 31 to 14. This important step forward, the result largely of the Japanese tour, was followed two years later by a further advance, namely the practice, now annual, of meeting a major provincial side. 1936, besides witnessing the first effective step towards this end, also saw the College team at least hold its own in the Second Division. It is worthy of note that during this year the Club was represented in the Senior "B" grade by a Training College team playing under the auspices of the College. During the winter R. B. Burke and S. McNicol represented Wellington.
It was natural then, that when preparations for the 1937 season were begun, there should be a good deal of optimism in the air, despite the fact that the First XV was once again placed in the Second Division, and the carefully constructed practice ground had been commandeered as a site for the College Biology Block. And when the winning of four games in the first round gained for the Victoria College team the honour of promotion to the First Division, the optimism, previously of the type which is both natural and common at the beginning of a season, seemed to rest on a solid foundation, instead of the shifting one which, in reality, existed. The Seniors must have welcomed the end of the season with its release from the regular weekly defeat—for not another game in nine was won, and the team finished last in the grade. There was not even a single Club member in the provincial team.
On the heels of calamity came success. Once more in the Second Division, the First XV began brilliantly by winning all its first five matches, and losing the next two by narrow margins. Recovering, they had six more victories, and finally won the competition, five clear points in the lead. Unpredictable as ever, the College had won its thirds page 99 Senior championship, though this year's success, being in the Second Division, was not comparable with that of 1928, or of 1929. It was a good year for Victoria College football, for J. P. Eastwood, McNicol, Burke, Rae, and Wild were all selected for representative teams. Wild, J. R. Bryers, Burke, and McNicol played for New Zealand University in its first encounter with a major Rugby province—Waikato—while Eastwood and J. Kissel were selected, but were unable, because of injuries, to take part.
In 1939, the Wellington Rugby Union raised to twelve the number of teams in the First Division, and the College once more took its place in the top grade. Our team performed creditably, if unspectactularly. Eastwood, McNicol, Hansen and Burke were the Club contingent to representative sides, and the last three were members of a powerful New Zealand University side which beat Canterbury by 24 to 5. By the end of the season, World War II had begun, and a large number of Club members joined the colours. At first, the Club was not greatly affected, for plenty of new players were available to fill the gaps, and six teams were entered; but enlistments soon made large inroads on personnel, and these inroads were quickly reflected in the indifferent success of the First XV, and the shortness of players in the lower grade sides. The Junior Third Division team alone had any success, and tied for first place with Porirua, McNicol, Burke, H. E. M. Greig, and O. S. Meads were all selected to represent Wellington in various matches. Further honours came the way of Burke, Meads, McNicol and R. D. Patrick, who were selected as members of the New Zealand University team which beat Combined Services at Auckland by 10 to 9.
1941 began badly, which is scarcely surprising when one considers how many of the old players had gone and how few teams were entered. Only four Club teams played, and the Seniors, though at times playing some of the best football seen on Athletic Park for years (especially against a very strong Army team which contained six AH Blacks) finished well down the ladder. A fine, late-season run, and the fact that all the College matches played were won, accounts for the large band of Club players in the various representative teams, University and provincial, for which were picked Meads, Greig, W. G. Smith, R. T. Shannon, Patrick and R. G. Stuckey.
The still-dwindling numerical strength of the Club was, in 1942, an immense worry and burden to the little band who were in charge of that body, for only sufficient men for three teams were available. It was apparent too that Club spirit was low. After some early successes came a run of defeats. An inevitable consequence of war enlistments was the constant change in the personnel of teams—indeed, no less than 43 players were called upon during the season for the First XV. Patrick and J. P. Murphy were the Club's sole representatives in the provincial XV, and no New Zealand University match was played. No College matches were contested, but a team sponsored by the Club and containing six of its members travelled to Wanganui and beat the local Colts side by 12 points to 5.
Next year, the College once more lost its First Division status, for, after being defeated in the first two qualifying games, it was placed in the Hardham Cup competition. Once again three teams only represented the Club in the Rugby Union's competitions, none being able to specially distinguish itself, though the First XV, by finishing third, accomplished a creditable performance. Good signs were the resumption of inter-College games, including that against Te Aute College. Patrick and MacLennan added to their provincial record, but no others were able either to do likewise, or to enter representative ranks for the first time. No New Zealand University games could be played this year, but 1944 saw a North-South Universities match at Christchurch (won by South), and the selection of a New Zealand University side which had no chance to prove itself. G. T. Cornick was the only Victoria man to be chosen in this team, and no Victorian represented Wellington. Cornick was selected but was unable to play, and J. R. E. Dobson came on as a replacement in a semi-representative match, but there it ended. Still, for a Club which had been possibly hardest hit of any by the war, Victoria did fairly well. Growing numbers permitted the entry of four teams, the First XV narrowly defeated Massey, and annihilated Canterbury. Injuries and transfers still mutilated the senior team, for which no fewer than 46 players appeared during the season. Two losses in the first two games set the First team struggling, but then came a spell of nine weeks without a loss, during which there were periods of both brilliant, and uncommonly bad, football. Sometimes it seemed that even Senior Second Division was too high for the team, sometimes that no team in Wellington could be their equal.
In 1945 there was a greatly increased membership, including many returned servicemen; and five teams were entered in the Rugby Union's competitions. Again the First XV alternated between brilliance and mediocrity. Still, taking all together, there was at least a little reason for buoyancy. Club spirit was gradually recuperating from its three years' serious illness; the First XV finished fourth; R. T. Shannon, C. W. Loveridge and L. B. Lewis were members of various City sides; and Shannon and Murphy played in the New Zealand University side beaten by Otago 19 to 9. Not much, but hopeful.