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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 061: Artie Lambourn

Arthur ‘Artie’ Lambourn was a regular fixture of Petone and Wellington teams throughout the 1930s.

His name is linked closely to rugby in the region in the years up to World War Two, and he played 45 first-class games for his province from 1932-39 and 40 matches for the All Blacks between 1934-38.

Lambourn was a front-rower – who could fill all three positions. In 10 Tests for the All Blacks he played once at loosehead prop, four times at hooker and five times at tighthead prop.

This was likely because he grew up playing in the old 2-3-2 scrum formation which New Zealand teams employed up to 1932 when the IRB [World Rugby] forced New Zealand to join the rest of the world and adopt the modern three-man front row and eight-man scrum. Although, club teams including Petone variously kept employing the old scrum for another few seasons.

Australian born, Lambourn moved from Queensland to Petone in his youth and attended the then Petone High School and joined the local rugby club. He was a Jubilee Cup winner aged 20 when Petone won Wellington club rugby’s preeminent title for the first time in its second season in 1930.

He first played for Wellington in 1932 and he played 18 matches for Wellington in his first two first-class seasons in 1932 and 1933. In fact, Lambourn’s Wellington debut was in their 36-23 win on 15 June 1932 against the All Blacks, a match that saw Nelson Ball score four tries for the provincial victors. Five matches into his career he was challenging for the Ranfurly Shield, but Wellington went down 8-9 to Canterbury.

In 1933, Lambourn was a key member of Wellington’s side that won seven of eight ‘A’ matches including a famous 8-try 37-9 win over Auckland at Eden Park.

Lambourn trialled for the All Blacks in 1934 and was selected in the team for his first tour to Australia throughout August, his test debut being in a 11-25 loss to Australia in which he packed down at tighthead prop against former Poneke and Wellington All Black-turned Wallaby Evan Jessop.

The All Blacks to Australia in 1934 – Lambourn back row, third from the right.

The following year, Lambourn made the All Blacks for the 1935/36 tour to Great Britain and Canada. Prior to leaving, he played most of the season for Petone and they won the Jubilee Cup for a second time. He played in 23 matches including in the tests against Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. The All Blacks won the first two but lost 12-13 to Wales and 0-13 to England.

By now a specialist hooker, Lambourn played a full season for Petone in 1936 and in Wellington’s early matches in the representative season, but he  only played five first-class matches that year and his career appeared to be on the slide when he was one of five incumbent All Blacks not to be selected in the starting XV of the annual North-South match. Auckland hooker Bill Hadley was selected in front of him, and Hadley played for the All Blacks against the Australian tourists later that year.

1937 was a big year in New Zealand rugby, the occasion of the second South African tour. Lambourn obviously doubled down on re-capturing his best form and fitness as he was back in the All Blacks to face the Springboks and played in all three tests against them.

He was to the fore in 1938 as well, ably assisting Petone to their third Jubilee Cup title win, but like in 1935, missed the last month of the season as he was with the All Blacks. This time on his second tour to Australia, when he played six matches on tour from late July to mid-August. The 14-6 win over Australia on 14 July would be his 40th and final match for New Zealand.

The following season he was at his best throughout the year. The Wellington Axemen just edged Petone for the Jubilee Cup in 1939, with the Axemen winning the decisive match between the two Jubilee Cup contenders by breaking an 8-8 deadlock and scoring a late kick and chase try under the posts.

A rare action shot – Lambourn playing one of his last games for Wellington in 1939. Photo credit in references below.

Lambourn was duly back playing for Wellington, playing in seven of their 12 ‘A’ team first-class matches, missing a block in the middle of the campaign after injuring his foot against Southland at home. Southland won this game 16-3, their maiden win in Wellington.

He was selected for the North-South game and for the All Blacks trials for the following year’s scheduled tour of South Africa, but no team was selected as war broke out and that was the end of top flight rugby for over five years.

Lambourn was 29 when the war started and all first-class rugby was ceased, so he clearly had more to give.

He appeared in five games for the  2nd NZEF team in Eqypt in 1941-43 and returned from the war to play twice for the Centurions Club in 1946. He also coached Petone teams mid-century.

His brother was Lt-Col Albert Lambourn who was awarded the DSO for his field artillery batteries engagement in the New Zealand break-out of Minqar Qaim. Another brother, Jack was Petone’s fullback throughout the mid-1930s.

Artie Lambourn was a photo engraver by profession. He died on 24 September 1999, aged 89.

Article References:

  • All Blacks Player Profile Arthur Lambourne – by Lindsay Knight.
  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • Chester R.H & McMillan N.A.C, The Visitors. The history of international Rugby Teams in New Zealand. Moa Publications, Auckland 1990.
  • Dominion and Evening Post various reports early 1930s.
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed
  • Swan, A.C. History of New Zealand Rugby Football Part 1. A.H and A.W. Reed, Wellington 1948.
  • Photo credit: “Evening Post” Photo. rA. Lambourn, Wellington’s most successful “hooker” tries his luck in the open in the match against Canterbury at Athletic Park last Saturday.EVENING POST, VOLUME CXXVIII, ISSUE 55, 2 SEPTEMBER 1939, PAGE 21

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