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Pioneers of rugby in Wellington 051: Evan ‘Ted’ Jessep

The first hooker to play in the All Blacks in the hooker position when New Zealand adopted the three-man front row, and one of a select group of players to play for both the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

Evan ‘Ted’ Jessep also won a Jubilee Cup with his Wellington club Poneke in 1932 and was a Ranfurly Shield winner in 1930 with Wellington.

He played for the All Blacks in 1931 and again in 1932, before moving to Australia later that same year – where he was born – and played for the Wallabies against the All Blacks in 1934.

Jessep was born in Sydney in 1904 and moved to New Zealand in 1908, attending Newtown School and South Wellington School.

He first played for Wellington in 1926 out of Poneke and played 39 games for Wellington over the next six seasons, including making nine appearances in the famous 1930 season that saw Wellington win eight and draw one of their nine first-class games and lift the Ranfurly Shield off Southland on 3 September of that year.

Wellington also famously beat the touring Great Britain side on King’s Birthday 3 June 1930, and Jessep was one of two reserves that day, but got his first taste of international rugby up close.

Jessep, who worked as a mechanic for a living, earned a New Zealand trial in 1930 but it wasn’t until the next year that he made his test debut that saw him pack down at hooker in the last ever 2-3-2 All Black scrum alongside Canterbury’s A.J. ‘Beau’ Cottrell.

On 2 July 1932, the All Blacks played their first test packing down a 3-4-1 scrum, with Jessep at hooker and with Otago’s John Hore and Canterbury’s Cottrell the props. The All Blacks won 22-17 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This was also the first Bledisloe Cup match.

Jessep was replaced by Auckland’s Bert Palmer for the next test in Brisbane, won 21-3 by New Zealand. Of note, Palmer was to tragically die of a broken neck whilst playing a club match for Otahuhu against University soon after his return from the 1932 tour.

Prior to that 1932 tour, the All Blacks had played Wellington at Athletic Park in a warm-up match, with Wellington famously winning 36-23. As well as his Wellington teammates, Jessep was up against three of his Poneke club mates that day.

After playing his eighth and final match in All Black colours in a 63-15 win over Western Districts in Wellington (town in NSW, not his NZ hometown) Jessep returned from Australia in early August to briefly support Poneke in their push for Wellington Senior Club Championship glory.

Not for long though – on Saturday 13 August 1932 he boarded the Maunganui for Melbourne to start his new life in Australia:

The following Saturday, Poneke clinched the Jubilee Cup with a 16-13 win over Petone in the ‘final’ at Athletic Park, coming back from a 10-point deficit at halftime. Reports wrote that Poneke were playing for two great absent club men that day; the departed Jessep and Club Captain Jim Taylor who passed away suddenly on the eve of the final match in his home in Hataitai aged 47.

Following the club season, Poneke played two benefit matches, in aid of families mentioned above.

The first was at the end of September against the Grammar Old Boys club in Auckland, for the mother of Jessep’s recently deceased All Black front row teammate Bert Palmer (Poneke won 27-0 in front a 12,000-strong crowd) and the other was back at Athletic in early October against Petone in a replay of that year’s championship decider for the family of Jim Taylor (Poneke won 25-12).

Settled in Melbourne in 1933, Jessep joined the ‘Kiwis’ club and would represent Victoria between 1933-37.

In 1934 he was selected for Australia to face the All Blacks as vice-captain and leader of the forwards. He started at loosehead prop at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 11 August that year. The Wallabies won a famous 25-11 victory – also their biggest win over the All Blacks up to that point and not surpassed until 1965. The two teams met in the second test a fortnight later at the same venue and Jessep lined up at prop once more. This time the All Blacks fought back to draw 3-3 but Australia won the Bledisloe Cup for the first time.

In both tests, Jessep marked Artie Lambourn, the man who replaced him in the Wellington team and played for Petone, Wellington and New Zealand throughout the 1930s.

Following his retirement from playing, Jessep coached the Eastern Suburbs club in Sydney for 16 years between 1940-55 and again between 1962-68. He coached Easts to four Shute Shield titles in this time.

Jessep died in Sydney in 1983 aged 78.

References

  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • All Blacks A-Z profiles – Evan Jessep, Bert Palmer
  • Chester, R.H. and McMillan, N.A.C., Palenski Ron. Men in Black Commemorative 20th Century Edition. Hodder Moa Beckett, Auckland 2000.
  • Dominion and Evening Post news reports July-October 1932.
  • Poneke Football Club. A willing Band of Youths. The History of the Poneke Football Club. Wellington, 1984.
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed

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