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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

Rugby at Victoria

page 96

Rugby at Victoria

1. Foundation and Early Development 1902—1918

In 1902, while the four foundation professors were still delivering their lectures in the old Girls' High School, their students were beginning to feel that the sporting and social life of the College was incomplete without Rugby. In that year the first College team defeated the Old Boys' XV by 19 to 12; Sydney University opened the negotiations which led to the later interchange of visits; and a committee to investigate the question of Rugby at Victoria was appointed by the Students' Association. The result of all this activity appeared in March, 1903, when a meeting, called to discuss this last matter, carried H. H. Ostler's motion "That in the opinion of this meeting the time has arrived when a Football Club should be formed," and thereby constituted the Victoria College Football Club. The seventeen enthusiastic members who attended the meeting elected a committee of nine—G. V. Bogle, W. Gillanders, A. H. Johnstone, F. A. de la Mare, R. Mitchell, H. H. Ostler, A. G. Quartley, R. G. M. Park, and A. Tudhope—who called the first annual general meeting for April 2nd of the same year, and entered, on behalf of the Club, one Junior and one Third-Class team in the Rugby Union's competitions. No great success came at first, as the First XV did not record its first victory until 1904, and then it only won four of the ten matches played. To the Second XV fell the honour of the Club's first win—at the expense of Poneke by 8 to 3 (1903)—but, in the two seasons 1903-4, this team could boast only two more victories, one of them by default.

Nevertheless, on September 8th, 1904, T. A. Hunter, the College's new lecturer in Mental and Moral Philosophy, moved, and H. H. Ostler seconded, that in 1905, the College should enter a Senior team in the competition. For the new season, the Club colours were changed from maroon and blue to green and gold, and T. A. Hunter was elected Captain of the Senior team. Two wins came, over Poneke 9 to 5, and Wellington 3 to 0. A further indication of the growing strength of the Club was the playing, in 1905, of Victoria's first inter-Collegiate matches—against Otago (lost 0—13), and Canterbury (won 8—6). The Otago match lapsed after this encounter, but the Canterbury game has been played almost annually ever since. T. A. Hunter and F. A. de la Mare, though chosen to represent Wellington, forfeited the honour of being the first Club footballers to play for the province, so that they could represent the College against Otago. Our first provincial representative was G. V. Bogle (in 1906), later a Rhodes Scholar and Scottish international trialist.

In 1906, four teams were entered, and a match played with Sydney University (lost 3—31), but the record of the teams generally was not good.

The first important event of 1907 was the election to life membership of four of the Club's best-known players and helpers—W. Gillanders, T. A. Hunter, F. A. de la Mare and A. H. Johnstone—and the only other happening of note was G. V. Bogle's selection, for the second year in succession, in the provincial side. The sad lack of training facilities, not remedied until the opening of the Gymnasium in 1909—largely, let it be said, through the efforts of the Club, and, in particular, of T. A. Hunter—once more told its tale, and the First XV did not win a single match.

In 1908, came an immense improvement in the standard of Victoria football. L. L. Hitchings and F. A. de la Mare were picked for representative teams, and J. D. Brosnan, F. W. B. Goodbehere, A. D. Lynch, H. F. O'Leary, and de la Mare became the College's first New Zealand University representatives on tour in New South Wales with the first University team.

The following year, Brosnan, O'Leary, de la Mare, C. E. Phillips, A. T. Duncan, A. Curtayne, O. Tennent, and W. J. Robertson represented New Zealand University against the Sydney University team on tour in New Zealand, while Duncan also played for Wellington. The Club's strength was, meanwhile, steadily growing. In 1910 P. J. Ryan, one of the Club's greatest backs, and Curtayne, gained places in the Wellington provincial side. In 1911 the annual match against Auckland University College was inaugurated, the First XV recorded some very meritorious wins, while Curtayne, Ryan, Brosnan, Robertson, A. S. Faire, and R. H. Quilliam went to Sydney with the New Zealand University team.

Ryan remained in the provincial team from 1911 to 1913, and, in the latter year, had as teammates T. E. Beard and Faire. Another New Zealand University team which went to Sydney included Ryan, Quilliam, Faire, A. Sandle, L. J. Shaw, T. Fawcett, and (unofficially) N. M. Paulsen. In 1914, the Club continued to grow stronger, but, in the local Senior competition, still found themselves nearer last than first. Nevertheless, Ryan, Beard, and W. J. Sim kept the Club colours at the top by being selected for representative teams. Before the end of the season, the Great War had wrecked the edifice so long and carefully built up, claiming more than one hundred Club members, many of whom did not return, and sending Victoria College football, in common with that page 97 of the whole city, almost underground for the next two years. When play was resumed in earnest in 1917, the Club was able to enter two teams, as against 1916's one, and contribute to provincial teams A. D. Jackson, G. G. Aitken, V. W. Russell, F. A. Morton, and D. H. Scott. In 1918, Aitken, R. R. Scott, and P. Martin-Smith represented Wellington. New life had come to Victoria College Rugby.

2. A Period of Strength 1919—1929

In 1919, the College regained at a bound its old status. Four teams were engaged each Saturday, the Senior team was for the first time runner-up in its grade, and eight players represented Wellington—Beard, Jackson, Aitken, Brosnan, Martin-Smith, N. A. J. Barker, D. E. Chrisp and R. R. Scott. It was a good year.

By contrast, in 1920, partly owing to the demands of the New Zealand University team, which took Aitken, J. D. Hutchison, F. M. H. Hanson (the 1919 Army representative), D. H. Scott, R. R. Scott, and S. K. Siddells, the First XV could win only four and draw one of eleven matches, and so the chance of championship honours, which had seemed so good, was lost. Notwithstanding the Club's mediocre record, Siddells, Martin-Smith, Jackson, Barker, Aitken, R. R. Scott, J. D. Hutchison, and M. L. Smith were in representative teams, while Barker became the first Victoria College man to be selected for the North Island team.

His feat was eclipsed in the very next year by G. G. Aitken and S. K. Siddells, who both played for New Zealand against the touring South Africans, Aitken being captain in the first two tests, and Siddells playing in the last, thus becoming the Club's first All Blacks. In Wellington sides were Siddells, Aitken, Jackson, Hanson, D. H. Scott, R. R. Scott, C. B. Thomas, F. C. Hutchison, and G. G. MacKay; and the New Zealand team in Sydney included Hanson, Jackson, Aitken, Siddells, D. H. Scott, and H. N. Burns.

1922 was a fairly successful year, especially from the point of view of representative honours, for Thomas, Siddells, Jackson, Burns, Aitken, R. R. and D. H. Scott, J. O. J. Malfroy, A. Murray, A. D. McRae, H. B. Riggs, M. L. Smith and J. F. Trapski earned the distinction of playing for Wellington, while Siddells was awarded a place in the North Island team, and Jackson, D. H. Scott, Siddells, Thomas and McRae were members of the New Zealand University side against the touring Sydney University team. College football was again in much the same position during the next year, the First XV's place not being a high one, in spite of the fact that from its numbers Jackson, Malfroy, Thomas, McRae, Martin-Smith, M. L. Smith and I. A. Hart represented the province, and were among those who, by their partiality for the fast open game, were making of Victoria College Rugby a spectacle to delight the public. In the same year Thomas, McRae, Malfroy, Riggs and Martin-Smith were members of the New Zealand University XV.

At the beginning of the 1924 season there were many who expected that, since retirements had left such a gap in Senior ranks, the Club's chances were hopeless for many years to come. As it happened, however, the College team was embarking at that time upon a six-year period of uncommon strength, and by the end of the winter could afford to laugh at the woeful prophets. There were seven College men—Malfroy, Martin-Smith, Hart, Riggs, J. J. G. Britland, C. J. O'Regan and E. Walpole—in the Union's sides; and the First XV finished in a creditable place.

By the end of 1925 the Club was able to boast of having been third on the ladder; of having sent to Wellington teams Hart, Walpole, Malfroy, Martin-Smith, O'Regan, E. T. W. Love, S. Joll and R. H. C. Mackenzie; and to New Zealand University XVs Burns, Martin-Smith, Mackenzie, Malfroy, O'Regan, Walpole and G. J. Sceats. In this year also the College defeated Sydney University for the first time, by 16 to 8. Still better things were to follow in the next year, when a very strong side consolidated the successes of 1925 by finishing in second place, and by contributing to Wellington teams E. T. Leys, F. A. Noble-Adams, J. D. Mackay, L. C. South, J. F. Platts-Mills, S. C. Childs, Malfroy, Sceats, Mackenzie, Burns, Martin-Smith, and O'Regan. Love was a member of the Maori All Blacks.

In 1927 Mackenzie, O'Regan, F. S. Ramson and E. E. Blacker were provincial representatives, and Childs, Love, O'Regan and Burns toured Australia with the New Zealand University XV. The Club team was becoming stronger, but it was not until 1928 that the Jubilee Cup was won for the first time. A hard final, evenly contested with Poneke, put the College at the head of the table, and a further major event in the history of Victoria College Rugby had occurred. In that same year, in virtuous emulation, University teams in all the four main centres of New Zealand, and in Sydney, won their Senior championships, University Rugby being at the time exceptionally good. A much-depleted team won the National Mutual Cup for the first and only time in the Club's history; J. D. Mackay and R. H. C. Mackenzie were All Blacks against the New South Wales team, and also Wellington representatives, in which distinction Noble-Adams, Ramson, Leys, O'Regan and Blacker also shared.

Next year witnessed only a slight abatement of the standard of the first championship season, as the Club again carried off the Jubilee Cup, though unable to retain the challenge trophy for another year. The list of Wellington representatives was still further extended by Ramson, Mackay, Mackenzie, Leys, H. W. and F. Cormack, C. E. Dixon, R. E. Diederich, J. M. Edgar and E. K. Eastwood; page 98 that of New Zealand University players by Mackenzie, Leys, Mackay, Blacker and Edgar; and that of All Blacks by Leys, who went to Australia to join the team touring there.

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.

4. Brief Brilliance—1946

It would be fair to say that this small taste of success had prepared no-one for the wonderful year of 1946, for not even the most partisan of page 100 supporters could have foretold that during that year the First XV would, for the third time in the history of the Club, carry off the Jubilee Cup. Yet that is what happened. With the end of the war there was a wonderful spirit abroad—experience was blended with youth, dash with experience, in perfect ratio. The First XV, after a bad start, lost not a single match in the last eleven, defeating Athletic in the final game with almost ridiculous ease, and finishing three points in the lead. Supported by six other teams within the Club, and with an ever-growing band of followers, the First XV proved itself well worthy of its final position and contributed no fewer than nine players to the province's teams. These were: Burke, Greig, Meads, Murphy, Shannon, R. Jacob, D. S. Goodwin, M. F. Radich and A. S. Macleod. Burke, Shannon, Goodwin, Greig and Jacob were awarded New Zealand University Blues for their part in defeating Wellington by 20 points to 14, and Jacob played for New Zealand Maoris. Adding more to the already impressive record of the Club during this year were the Colts XV, who tied for first place in their grade with Marist, after a special final match. It was a marvellous year for the Club.

5. A New Decline—1947-8

Perhaps it was over-confidence, perhaps lack of keenness, perhaps lack of quality, that toppled the First XV from its proud place. In 1947, in spite of the presence of some eight representative players—Macleod, Shannon, Meads, Jacob, Radich, Burke, S. S. Kurtovich, and C. B. Burden—and four New Zealand University Blues in Meads, Shannon, Jacob and Macleod, the Senior team finished in an inglorious position in the Hardham Cup competition. After some initial successes, the team suffered a series of reverses. The finish and drive which had distinguished the play in 1946 was missing, and the side, though occasionally brilliant, was more often sluggish and unpolished. Nor did the performance of the lower grade teams do much to dispel the gloom cast over the Club's activities.

Hope for the future was the only consolation, but reality was coy. The Colts XV were runners-up, but the First XV, notwithstanding a really promising end of season burst, were not able to improve their final grade position, and remained low down in the Hardham Cup table. Only towards the winter's end did the Senior team begin to play with polish and verve—four wins and one draw in sixteen matches tells its own story. Representative honours were gained by Meads, Jacob, R. T. Shannon and R. G. Wilde, who all played for Wellington teams; by the two first mentioned and C. A. Shannon who represented New Zealand University against Auckland; and by Jacob who toured New Zealand and Fiji with the New Zealand Maoris and was reserve back for the North Island.

That is the record of Victoria College Rugby. Many seasons, for results, have been poor and barren: no winter can seem dull, stale, or un-profitable which has given so many the opportunity of playing Rugby with or against the finest that Wellington or New Zealand can produce, the best of friends, companions, and rivals.

J. B. Trapp