War and a Wandering Wallaby (1914-1918)

Peter Bowers, 2012

This is the second article in a seven-week series on Manly Rugby history. If you were involved in a Grand-Final win or another interesting event and would like to contribute, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Manly had a rocky experience in their early years of First Grade Sydney rugby.

They finished last on the ladder for their first two seasons (1906-07), improved for the next few years and in 1911 achieved third place in the competition.

This proved to be a peak, however, as they finished much lower in the subsequent years and in 1914 were again on the bottom, with the competition then being suspended (1915-18) during the war period.

Manly had a reasonable excuse for performing poorly in 1914, as many of their players had gone to fight in World War I (1914-1918).

In fact, Manly made one of the biggest contributions to the war effort of all the rugby clubs, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 30, 1915:

"The Manly Club's list on the Rugby Union honour roll of members who have enlisted has been increased by three names...making a total of 36 from the club."

"This is the best record of any team to date, being closely followed by Eastern Suburbs (33), New England (21) and others with 20-odd names."

A cricket game on Manly Oval in 1917. The rugby competition was suspended from 1915-18.

Many of these players, sadly, did not come home.

One who did was 'Thomas James Richards' (1887-193), a man who is believed by Manly Rugby's 'Centenary Committee' (Sean Rout et al, 2006) to be the first Manly Wallaby.

Tom Richards is an intriguing character who played rugby all over the world, representing both the British Lions and Australia, and was an Australian military officer.

In 1908, the Times newspaper of London lauded, "He would be the first man to be picked for Earth if we were ever to play Mars!"

Richards grew up in a North Queensland gold-mining town and took an interest in rugby after a touring NSW side visited his hometown. He played in several places in the forwards.

At around eighteen years of age he moved to South Africa to work with his father in gold mines, and played rugby for the Miners Club and in the Currie Cup for Transvaal. The next year he sailed to Britain and played for both Bristol & Gloucestershire, before sailing home to Australia.

Playing for Queensland, he was picked to represent Australia in their first UK tour in 1908, and became a Gold Medalist when Australia won the 1908 London Olympic Games in rugby.

This UK tour is very significant in international and Australian rugby history.

First, it is believed as soon as the team boarded their ship, the SS Omrah, they began to debate what the new team should be called.

Some suggestions included: The "Waratahs" (they were wearing NSW Waratah jerseys in 1908), the "Kookaburras" (now the Australian hockey team), the "Wallaroos" (now the Australian women's rugby team), the "Kangaroos" (now the Australian rugby league team) and the "rabbits" (now an introduced pest as much as it was in 1908).

A few days after their arrival in England the team voted, with the captain Herbert Moran confirming to the press, "We all agreed that any name would be preferable to Rabbits".

"'Wallabies' won by a couple of votes".

As a forward, Richards also played a significant role in the Wallabies introducing their new scrummaging technique to the world.

Previously, the British played a 'first up, first down' style where the first players to arrive at the scrum had the honour of being front-rowers.

Australia's innovation was to have specialised positions in the front-row, something many Brits argu

Thomas James Richards in his Australian--although not yet wallaby--jersey.

ed was contrary to the Spirit of the Game.

One sports journalist wrote, "The Colonials argue...that the slight loss of time entailed is more than compensated for by the benefits of accuracy from a set plan of packing ... it is just possible that the innovation will be recognised as making for the betterment of the game, and the necessary latitude be allowed for its execution (Chris Thau, www.irb.com)."

However, the Colonials' innovation was not as successful in 1908 as one might think, because player numbers in the scrums had not yet been set in law.

With such anarchy at scrum time, the Brits tended to pack four or even five men in the front-row and so achieve the loose-head advantage (outside man on the side the ball is fed), which the Australian forwards had never encountered.

After the historic Wallaby tour, Tom Richards returned to working in South African gold mines.

While he was in South Africa the British Lions toured, but had a number of crippling injuries.

Richards qualified to play for the Lions because of his time in England, and to this day is believed to be the only person to have represented both Australia and the British Lions.

Consequently, the 'Tom Richards Trophy' was commissioned for the 2001 'British and Irish Lions vs. Australian Wallabies' test series.

Richards then returned to Australia and playing for Manly, greatly contributed to their third place finish in 1911.

He was also selected for another tour, this time the 1912 Australian tour of Canada and the United States.

Richards moved again to England, and toured France with an English team, but left them to play and coach rugby in France. On his travels, he allegedly showed the locals in Biarritz, France, how to surf.

When World War I broke, Richards joined the Australian Imperial Force and served in Gallipoli, Egypt and on the Western Front. He was promoted to Lieutenant and received the Military Cross for bravery.

In 1921, Richards married and later raised a family in Manly. Suffering ill health due to gas during the war, he died of tuberculosis in 1935.