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1924 – a season in review. Part 2: Representative Rugby

The fifth annual instalment of our series recapping the club, domestic and international rugby season a century ago.

Read the first part of the 1924 season review here:

1924 – a season in review. Part 1: Club Rugby

The 1924 season was a quiet one on the domestic front for Wellington teams and generally for representative rugby.

The year was dominated by the outbound tour from early September until early the next year of the All Blacks on their 32-game tour to Britain, Ireland, France and North America. This team would sweep all before team and become known as the Invincibles.

Three Wellington players were selected for the All Blacks, these being Cliff Porter and Kenneth Sevenson of the Athletic club and Mark Nicholls of Petone.

Porter was the touring team’s captain and a specialist wing forward, Svenson was a wing or centre and Nicholls a first or second five-eighth. Porter and Nicholls had both played first five for the Wellington College First XV, while ‘Snowy’ Svenson was born on the plateau in Toowomba in Queensland and moved to Whanganui whilst growing up.

Four Wellington supporters, Nicholls’ older brother and 1921 All Black halfback against South Africa ‘Ginger’ was a controversial non-selection for this team, but got to go on tour as a correspondent with the Free Lance newspaper.

Oriental forward Alex Pringle, who had played for the All Blacks the previous year, was another serious contender for the Invincibles tour but missed out, out of the 10 players the WRFU first nominated for the trials starting in mid-May.

Porter (captain), Pringle, Nicholls and Svenson were the four Wellington players who played in the 20th North Island -South Island match at Athletic Park on 31 May 1924. Hawke’s Bay halfback Jimmy Mill lined up for the North ahead of Ginger Nicholls. In terms of star quality, this was the biggest game of the season in Wellington and the North ran away with it by winning 39-8. Such players as Maurice Brownlie (former St Pat’s Town student) and George Nepia were leading players for the North in this match. Taranaki wing A.J. Hart scored a hat-trick of tries and flanker Brownlie two.

For days later, a final ‘Probables’ v ‘Possibles’ trial was held in Wellington, and Porter, Nicolls and Svenson were selected for the All Blacks for their July tour of Australia. This team lost the first ‘test’ to NSW but won the next two and remaining games. Returning home, they lost to Auckland but beat a combined Horowhenua-Manawatu side.

The 1924 season was not a vintage one for Wellington representative teams.

Swan in his Wellington Rugby History Part 1 publication summed it up as thus:

“The record of the representative side was most disappointing and the falling away in standard evident in the past two seasons continued. Only four of the eleven games played were won, seven were lost and one drawn, this being the least impressive showing for many years.”

Missing their four leading players with the All Blacks, Wellington’s most experienced players were forwards and former All Blacks Jim Moffitt and Pringle (both Oriental) and Syd and Jack Shearer (both Poneke). Former Southlander and future All Black Lance Johnson (Wellington) was first five, while John ‘Tuna’ Swain (Athletic) would later Join Johnson in the 1928 All Blacks to South Africa whilst representing Hawke’s Bay.

Athletic’s Malcolm Warwick and Berhampore’s N.A. Walters were regular starters at halfback and fullback respectively. Walters was versatile as he could also play in the forwards and at five-eighth as well.

Of the 11 games played, three were played by the ‘B’ XV, resulting in a win, a loss and a draw for that team.

On 16 July, the B selection beat the Bush union 35-0 at home, the 10 tries being spread around. On 13 September it drew 19-19 with Marlborough in Wellington and on 20 September lost 12-18 to King Country, also in Wellington.

The ‘A’ team played eight matches in 1924, starting on 2 July with a trip to Hawera to play Taranaki, which they lost 9-14.

On 16 July (the same afternoon as the B games against Bush noted above) Wellington played Wairarapa in Carterton, losing that too, 9-18.

Their third match wasn’t until 30 August following the conclusion of the club season, and was the return fixture against Taranaki played at Athletic Park.

Wellington won 12-11, and local media outlets were thrilled with the result. The Evening Post summed it up as:

“Welcome relief from mediocre displays of football covering a big portion of the present season was obtained at Athletic Park on Saturday afternoon, when teams representing Taranaki and Wellington were parties to a game that was keenly interesting and highly exciting.”

Wellington led 6-3 at halftime and held their lead throughout a see-saw second half that had the mediocre crowd of 6,000 wanting more at the end according to the same publication.

Hutt player R.H. McKay scored two of Wellington’s four unconverted tries against Taranaki.

Next up was a visit by Auckland a week later and expectations were high that Wellington had turned a corner. But it was not to be and Auckland won 9-8. Not only that, Wellington were criticised by all publications for playing poorly.

The remainder of the 1924 representative season was played away – in the South Island.

Wellington teams had a good record on their ‘Southern Tour’ post world war one, so it was hoped they would continue this in their match schedule of four games in 10 days, against South Canterbury on 10 September, Otago on 13 September, Southland on 17 September and Canterbury on 20 September.

They won the first two but lost the second two.

The tour started in Timaru against South Canterbury, with a convincing 25-13 win in fine conditions. Oriental wing K. Smith scored a hat-trick of tries and Berhampore’s George Lang, on the other wing, scored two.

On to Dunedin, and the two teams contested a hard-fought even match that was in the balance until near the end until Wellington hooker Swain fielded an Otago defensive kick in general play and ran through to score the try that gave Wellington a 19-14 win.

Southland were expected to be the strongest opposition of the tour, having already beaten Otago and Canterbury. In front of 7,000 spectators, Wellington started brightly and WCOB wing Selwyn Beddell opened the scoring with a try. But Southland regrouped and stymied Wellington and won 8-3. Their first-five, Hazlett, was the Player of the Match. Twenty years later he would be killed at the battle of Monte Casino in Italy aged 44.

Wellington then saved its worst performance to last, losing 32-6 to Canterbury. The Dominon’s ‘Five-eighths’ summed it up in his next column:

Whilst the senior team had its struggles in 1924, the Wellington Junior [Colts] representative team were in good form in two matches. After sweeping aside Wairarapa 53-9 they beat Canterbury 22-8.

The season ended on 4 October with a match between the Wellington and Horowhenua Maori sides. Both teams attacked with venom throughout and Wellington emerged victorious 15-5.

This series continues next year when we recap the 1925 season.

References: In outlining the 1923 club rugby season above, Club Rugby has used both the Dominion and Evening Post newspapers of the time. All quotes here are from the Dominion and the newspaper clipping is from the Dominion, August 1923. Additional sources have been several of the various club rugby histories.

Also directly the following two publications:

  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed

Headline photo is the Western Bank at Athletic Park, circa 1920. Photo is from the Alexander Turnbull Library on the National Library website with permission to reproduce it here.

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