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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 065: Cecil Ongley

Cecil Ongley was an integral member of Poneke and Wellington representative teams throughout the 1930s and was a three-time All Black trialist without cracking international rugby.

Ongley was involved in a number of big games over several seasons, For both Poneke and Wellington.

Poneke’s team that competed for the Zemba Cup against Tukapa in 1940, with Ongley fourth from right.

He is variously listed as a ‘forward’ but it seems that he predominately played loosehead prop, a position that New Zealand teams were adopting fulltime with the move to three-man front rows and forward packs as we know them today.

Ongley was born in Oamaru on 5 June 1914. It is unsure where he was educated, but he had a younger brother Patrick who played first-class rugby for Otago who is listed as being educated at St Patrick’s College, Wellington.

An early record of older brother Cecil Ongley is playing for the University club in Wellington in 1933. He spent one season in the University Senior A team in 1933, but this side was relegated to the new second division of the Senior A competition.

Ongley was in the Wellington Colts squad that toured East Coast, Southern Hawke’s Bay and Bush Districts in late August and early September 1933. This team won all its games.

In 1934 Ongley moved across to Poneke, who had been Jubilee Cup champions in 1932 and were in the mix in 1933, the year that Wellington College Old Boys won their one and only Jubilee Cup.

The following season, 1935, was a breakthrough year for Ongley, playing a full season for Poneke and then the first 10 of his 35 first-class matches for Wellington.

In club rugby, Poneke finished exactly in the middle of the pack in 5th of 10 teams, behind winners Petone. Poneke won 7, lost 7 and drew two of their games. As their standing suggests they struggled to compete with the leading teams, but the “dash” and “commitment” of their forwards was noted in various Evening Post reports.

The Wellington A team played 12 first-class fixtures in 1935, winning nine, losing two and drawing one. Ongley had a big match and scored a try in the home 11-8 win over Canterbury on 17 August, played in their 11-9 win over the New Zealand Maori team four days later. He was also a trialist for the All Blacks end of year tour.

It was a similar story for Poneke in both 1936 and 1937, but Ongley was now a well-established player for them.

For Wellington he also doubled his caps over the next two seasons and trialled for the All Blacks in both years.

In 1936 he was noted as having a strong match – and he was a double try-scorer – in Wellington’s 25-0 win over Hawke’s Bay. Wellington also had a Ranfurly Shield challenge that spring but lost 3-16 to holders Otago.

1937 was the year of the much-anticipated Springboks tour. The South Africans were a strong side and would prove too great for the All Blacks, winning the test series 2-1.

Ongley lined up at loosehead prop against Transvaal hardman H.J. Martin, packing down in Wellington’s front row alongside two All Blacks, hooker Artie Lambourn and tighthead Jock Wells. Wellington’s captain was Ongley’s Poneke teammate and All Black second-five Jack Griffiths.

Wellington won the toss and had first use of a moderate wind. But the toss was to be just about all they won as the South Africans came out and scored four first half tries to lead 16-0 at halftime. The Dominion said afterwards of the first half: “The Springboks’ superiority in every department of the game was clearly established and Wellington’s was mainly a defensive game. The home backs had not put on a single organised passing movement and the forwards were hard put to it to counter the bulk and the speed of the visitors.”

Turning into the wind, Wellington was given little chance. But they at least shored up their defence and it took South Africa 22 minutes to cross again. South African wing Dai Williams ran in his third try of the match on fulltime to complete a 29-0 win.

Several matches followed for Wellington in 1937, with Ongley scoring another two tries in the 25-19 win over Auckland on 18 September.

Ongley didn’t play for Wellington in 1938 and his name is hard to come by in despatches in club rugby that season. His profession is listed as a ‘doctor’ and he would have been 23-24 years of age so perhaps career commitments took over?

Regardless, he was back playing for Poneke in both 1939 and 1940, Poneke again finishing mid-table. He played seven matches for Wellington each of these seasons.

Ongley appears to have hung up his boots at the end of the 1940 season, with war about to set in for the next five years.

He died in Wellington on 4 May 1981.


  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016
  • Dominion and Evening Post various club rugby and representative reports 1930s.
  • Poneke Football Club. A willing Band of Youths. The History of the Poneke Football Club. Wellington, 1984.
  • Swan, A.C. History of New Zealand Rugby Football, Volume 1 1870-1945. Christchurch. Whitcombe and Tombs 1948.
  • 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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2 thoughts on “Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 065: Cecil Ongley

  1. Great article Steven on Dr Dick Ongley
    He was a great mate of father in law Jack Griffiths. They played at College , Poneke and for Wellington together. As I understand it Dick qualified as a lawyer and at one stage was accused of cheating in his university law exams. He appeared before a law society committee and asked to ask him anything from the standard text book. He had a photographic memory. He then after 1940 joined the war effort on board a merchant marine vessel and had an argument with the Captain. Being a boxer the Captain evidently came off second bst and Dick was charged and sent to be court marshalled. Before that occurred he escaped custody and fled to Ireland. I Ireland he completed a medical degree and is reported to have played for Ireland and crossed the border to the North to play under the name Paddy Obrien. His family I believe had to pay a substantial some to obtain a Queens Pardon or Kings Pardon to get back to NZ. He practiced opposite the Midland Hotel and was a mentor many club and provincial players in my time in Wellington.Regards David Heather

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