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123 years on: Looking back at the first ever Wallabies Test

Fri, 24/06/2022, 4:03 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Looking back at Australia's First Test 123 years on
Looking back at Australia's First Test 123 years on

June 24 1899 will always be a day that lives in history as Australia took the field in their first-ever Test match, defeating the British Isles 13-3.

It's only fitting the match took place at the SCG, the site of the 657th Test match when the Wallabies conclude July's three Test series against England.

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With this in mind, Rugby.com.au along with Honorary Statistician Matt Alvarez looks back at Australia's first ever Test.

The match was played under favourable conditions as the two sides faced off in the first of three games, with later matches to be played in Brisbane (July 22) and Sydney (August 12).

It was a welcomed concept by the Australian public, with newspapers at the time reporting close to 30,000 attended the SCG for the historic occasion.

This had followed 22,000 for an earlier fixture against NSW along with 25,000 attending a match between the British Isles and Sydney Union.

With the SCG packed, Australia ran out in the blue colours of NSW, reverting to maroon for the Brisbane Test, years before they would adopt the 'Wallabies' nickname during their first tour of England in 1909.

The team consisted of nine NSW representatives and six Queensland, captained by centre Frank Row - Queensland-born but a New South Wales resident.

Meanwhile, the British were led by Reverend Matthew Mullineux, his lone Test on tour before dropping himself as they were preparing for a fourth match in 12 days.

The Australian team for the first ever Test. Photo Supplied
The Australian team for the first ever Test. Photo Supplied

Neither team could find a way through early on as their defences held strong. England looked set to open the scoring via the scrum, however, some great work from scrumhalf Austin Gralton collected the ball 5 metres out and kicked it clear.

The first try of the game came shortly afterwards when Gralton found William Evans, who attempted a drop goal - worth four at the time.

The attempt sailed wide and landed in front of British full-back Esmond Martelli who over-ran its irregular bounce while the chasing Australians pounced on the loose ball and scored.

Reports vary as to whether Ginger Colton or Alex Kelly touched down first, with the British protesting Martelli was taken out in the process of scoring the try and the pair were offside.

Colton was awarded the try nonetheless as the hosts went into the break up 3-0.

The second half started like the first as both sides looked to strike early.

Needing a try, the British Isles put together what was described as an 'extraordinary exhibition of combined work' for their opening try.

It started with halfback George Cookson, who raced away for the corner before finding Jon Francomb, with quick hands ending up hitting Welsh centre Gwyn Nicholls.

Reports differ on what happens from here - the try is officially awarded to Nicholls, however, the Sydney Morning Herald asserts Nicholls was set to be put into touch before a freak no-look pass found his winger Alfred Bucher who ended up scoring.

Regardless, the resulting three-pointer levelled the scores just after the break as the Australian forwards started to gain the upper hand.

With time running out, centre Lonnie Spragg took it upon himself to take the game on, nearly scoring before being put into touch.

He'd make no mistake moments later, with flyhalf Peter Ward hitting Spragg with a great ball to put him through the defensive line and over for the try. He would convert his own effort to give the Australians an 8-3 advantage with seven minutes to go.

With the British struggling for conditioning, the hosts hunted for one more try as they forced a mistake from Martelli from the kick-off.

Ward's ball found Evans and onto Spragg, who was collared by the defence before finding a way to get the ball back to a charging Evans to score right under the posts.

The team lists from Australia's first ever Test. Photo Supplied
The team lists from Australia's first ever Test. Photo Supplied

The final ten minutes sent the packed crowd into raucous cheering and applause as Australia came away with the 13-3 victory.

It would be the lone win for the Australians, defeated 11-0 in Brisbane before returning to the SCG for two final Tests where they lost 11-10 and 13-0.

The British Isles, now known as the British and Irish Lions, would return to Australian shores in 1904 with a clean sweep victory before Australia and England would face off individual in their first Test five years later.

Australia 13 (TRIES: Cotton, Evans, Spragg, CONS: Spragg 2) def. British Isles 3 (TRIES: Nicholls)

Australia: Bob McCowan, Charlie White, Frank Row (c), Lonnie Spragg, William Evans, Peter Ward, Austin Gralton, James Carson, Walter Davis, Charlie Evans, Hyram Marks, Patrick Carew, Dooee Tanner, Alex Kelly, Alex Colton

British Isles: Esmond Martelli, Alf Bucher, Charlie Adamson, Gwyn Nicholls, Gerry Doran, Matthew Mullineux (c), George Cookson, Frank Stout, Wallace Jarman, Tom McGown, John Franscombe, H.G.S. Gray, Frederick Belson, Alan Ayre-Smith, George Gibson

Touch umpires: Blair Swannell and Billy Warbrick

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