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Season in review: 1930 (Part One the club rugby season)

A highly competitive club rugby season, a successful representative season culminating in the return of the Ranfurly Shield and a hugely popular in-bound tour by Great Britain – 1930 remains one of the vintage seasons in Wellington rugby.

As we build up to the 2020 year in rugby, we rewind the clock to 90 years ago, starting with the club rugby season in this article and then the representative season including the Great Britain tour in parts two and three to come.

There were lots of talking points that came out of the 1930 Wellington club rugby season, played under the backdrop of fast-deteriorating economic conditions, including:

  • Petone winning it’s 23rd club rugby championship, its first for six years and its maiden Jubilee Cup title
  • Eastbourne coming close to winning the Senior A club championship title for the first time (and who knows, perhaps not its last if it had won)
  • The previous year’s winners and inaugural Jubilee Cup champions University going from heroes to zeroes and finishing last and being relegated from the top flight.
  • The previous year’s wooden-spooners the Wellington Axemen running rampant in the Senior B competition, assisted by some star power including the Wellington representative halves pairing and the acquisition of an All Black flanker and wing.
  • Marist winning the annual seven-a-side tournament in September.

As 1929 drew to a close, University were in possession of the brand new Jubilee Cup, which was presented by the WRFU during the season to mark the union’s 50th anniversary.

Nine other Senior A clubs started 1930 hoping to usurp the students, who had also won the title in 1928, while the Senior B competition saw the Wellington Axemen enter as the hottest of favourites after being relegated in 1929 but now having four current or soon-to-be Blacks on their books in halfback Frank Kilby, first five-eighth Rusty Page, flanker Hugh McLean and wing Don Oliver. As an aside, all four were from outside the province, McLean from Wanganui and the others from Southland and Otago. Oliver was to prove a try-scoring sensation in the Senior B competition, was to face Great Britain for the All Blacks and then face stiff competition from Hutt’s Nelson Ball for his wing spot in the Wellington representative side later in the year.

The 1930 final Wellington club rugby points tables.

The Senior A clubs in 1930 were: Athletic, Berhampore, Eastbourne, Hutt, Marist, Oriental, Petone, Poneke, University and Wellington College Old Boys.

The Senior B teams were: Johnsonville, Melrose, Miramar, Oriental B, Porirua, Selwyn, University B, Upper Hutt, Wellington Axemen, WCOB B.

The 1930 season started not on the playing field but in the boardroom as the NZRU voted to change one of two rules in line with the international rules of the game, which were being played solely in New Zealand at the time.

The first, which wasn’t changed but that would become a major talking point in the upcoming Great Britain tour was the scrum law. The rest of the world operated the 3-4-1 scrum (the modern scrum set-up) but the New Zealand game was based on the 2-3-2 scrum, which employed a ‘wing forward’ who put the ball in on attack and harassed the opposition halves on defence. Athletic club’s Cliff Porter was also the incumbent All Blacks wing forward.

The second, was the ‘kick-into-touch’ rule, which was changed to bring New Zealand into line with the rest of the rugby world. Previously in New Zealand, the ball could be kicked out on the full from anywhere but now kickers could only find touch on the full from inside their own 22 (the current rule).

This was a factor why the All Blacks had lost the 1929 Test series in Australia 3-0, and it was proposed at the NZRU’s AGM at the start of 1930 to change this in time for the start of the club season throughout the country so as to better prepare for the arrival of the Great Britain tourists. Most unions obliged, including Wellington.

The kick-into-touch rule change and its impact on the style of the game and the evenness of the teams was a talking point heading into the start of the new season during pre-season matches in April.

A third change saw ‘marks’ needing to be taken with both feet on the ground instead of one and the other leg up in the air.

The competition was well covered in both the Evening Post and the Dominion and the latter rightly predicted that defending champions University wouldn’t be as strong following the retirement and transfer of a number of players that had drunk from the Jubilee Cup for the first time, while also singling out Oriental as predicted improvers, newly promoted Hutt (replacing Wellington) to be competitive and traditional clubs Petone and Poneke to be strong.

They were almost on the money after the opening round of matches on 26 April that saw University losing their opener 10-16 to Wellington College Old Boys, Ories edging Eastbourne 9-6, Poneke beating Berhampore 24-9 and Petone overcoming Athletic 15-10. The other match saw 1929 giant-killers Marist beating Hutt 19-10.

Oriental’s three-point win over Eastbourne was tight and achieved late in the game, which ultimately had ramifications on the business end of the season 14 rounds later.

Bill Elvy, who lends his name to the current interclub Premier trophy between Petone and Marist St Pat’s, was in good form for Petone in their round two 21-6 win over Berhampore, while Eastbourne announced its credentials in week three by beating Petone Petone 25-14 in a “fast-paced game”, leaving Marist as the only unbeaten team after they beat Poneke 21-11.

The following Saturday Petone bounced back to beat Marist 12-3 in a top-of-the-table clash at Athletic Park, while wing Don Oliver arrived from Otago to Wellington and scored a hat-trick of tries on debut for his new club the Wellington Axemen in their 35-0 win over Upper Hutt.

In Australia on this day, a horse named Phar Lap made it nine straight wins in the past 10 weeks by winning the 2,400m SAJC Queen’s Cup.

Phar Lap was duly spelled for the winter, but Wellington club rugby continued and round five on 24 May was a low scoring round in poor weather, that saw Athletic holding Eastbourne to a 3-3 draw, Wellington College Old Boys beating Ories 6-3, Marist defeating Berhampore 21-5 and Petone beating Poneke 20-9. With a third of the season played, Petone, Marist and WCOB were in a three-way tie at the top of the standings.

The sixth round set of matches on the first weekend of June saw Eastbourne beating Marist 8-6 and Petone taking the outright lead for the first time by beating Ories 28-3.

That weekend the touring Great Britain side defeated Wairarapa 19-6 in Masterton and they arrived in the capital to much fanfare and excitement on Sunday night for their Wednesday encounter with Wellington.

Wellington beat Great Britain 12-8 in this match and rugby in Wellington was at fever pitch. More on this win to come in a subsequent article in this series.

Most of the Wellington players jumped straight back into club rugby the following Saturday on “Charity Day” and University caused a boilover by beating Petone 17-14. This was Varsity’s first win of the season.

Petone and Marist remained unbeaten into week eight in a round of few surprises, while the Axemen overcame Selwyn 60-0 in a thumping.

The newspapers also reported around this time that Mt Victoria had been “pierced”, as the roading project creating a tunnel through to the eastern suburbs continued apace.

The end of the first round the next week had Petone back out in front on their own, the Villagers beating WCOB 14-3, while Marist and University drew 9-9.

This was also the weekend of the first test in Dunedin and Great Britain defied expectations in beating the All Blacks 6-3. It was snowing in Carisbrook 30 minutes before kick-off.

Petone started part two of the season and ended June by beating Poneke 27-8 in front of several thousand spectators at Athletic Park. This was noted as a good win as Petone were without a handful of leading players including in-form Elvy and All Blacks five-eighths Marc Nicholls. Berhampore beat University 19-14 in a bottom of the table clash and Wellington beat Oriental 45-0 with Oliver scoring seven tries.

In other sports news, former Mt Victoria resident and spinner Clarrie Grimmett and young batting sensation Don Bradman were piling on the wickets and runs in Australia’s tour of England.

Eastbourne opened July with an eye-catching 29-11 win over WCOB at Athletic Park, while Petone beat Athletic 42-24 in a high scoring game for the time (10 tries to 2). Nicholls was away in Christchurch playing a leading role in the All Blacks’ 13-10 second test win. “Mark, mark, mark, mark Nicholls take a little goal for me” was the chant.

Just when Petone appeared to be in the box seat, the Championship took another twist the following Saturday in round 12, with the Dominion headline “Hutt Routs Petone.” Petone had their leading players this time, including Nicholls, Bunk Pollock and Huxtable in the backs, while Hutt were missing some of theirs. However, Hutt had Bert Cooke at second five-eighth, the All Black orchestrating a 23-8 win.

Eastbourne beat Marist 21-8 in their match, to cut Petone’s lead back to just a point with three weeks remaining.

The very next week Eastbourne tip over Hutt 14-6 and Petone overcame Marist 17-8. These three Hutt Valley teams now occupied the first three spots on the table. WCOB was the best of the city sides in fourth.

The penultimate round saw Petone knock out WCOB from the running with a 24-16 win over the Tigers, Eastbourne beat Ories 24-3 and Hutt hurt Berhampore 11-3.

Then on to the final weekend of the 1930 season. Petone and Eastbourne were set down to play a ‘virtual final’ at Athletic Park. Petone just needed to win or draw to capture the Jubilee Cup outright, while Eastbourne had to win.

It was noted that Eastbourne had electrified the crowds all season and their strengths were their cohesion and outstanding teamwork. They were predicted to give Petone, with its “galaxy of three-quarters” a strong game and the eastern harbour side’s chances were good. Plus they had beaten them earlier in the year.

A crowd of 10,000 assembled at Athletic Park for the decider which kicked off in “ideal” conditions.

Neither team played a particularly good game and it seems the occasion got to many players Mistakes were plentiful and opportunities went begging.

Petone were able exploit weak midfield defence on several occasions and wing Walker scored three tries as Petone won 14-6 and won their 23rd Championship title.

Petone’s winning record was: played 15, won 12, lost three, 272 points for, 176 points against.

Petone’s football team also won the Chatham Cup in 1930, so both the oval and round ball codes were riding high there this year.

At Prince of Wales Park, University romped home to beat Berhampore 33-9, but couldn’t avoid the wooden spoon and relegation for 1931.

In the Senior B finale Wellington beat its nearest rival Johnsonville 34-0 to complete an unbeaten season.

In September the annual seven-a-side tournament was contested and Marist took the spoils.

By that stage the provincial season was well underway as well, and the All Blacks had wrapped up the international series 3-1 with a fourth test win in Wellington – more to come on the representative and international season in a subsequent article in this series.

Below: The Petone and Eastbourne teams ahead of the Jubilee Cup “final” in 1930

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