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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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History - Rugby in Victorian Schools

The Victorian Schools' Rugby Union was formed before the Second World War, although the first recorded games of rugby at schools level were played between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar in the late 19th Century. The early matches of the newly formed union were a series of invitations between Geelong Grammar, Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College played at the end of their Australian Rules football season.

It seems as if rugby was not played seriously in Victorian schools until the 1950s and from then until 1991 it was played as a series of friendly fixtures with no premiership awarded. Scotch College has been the strongest team over this period with the only other contender being Geelong Grammar with undefeated 1st XV's four times in the 1960s. Initially rugby matches were only played between the schools from the Associated Public Schools of Victoria, but has since grown to include schools from the Associated Grammar Schools of Victoria, the Associated Catholic Colleges of Victoria, State Government schools and provincial country schools. Since 1991, with the introduction of ladders and grand finals, Yarra Valley Anglican School, Melbourne High School, St. Kevin's College, Geelong Grammar and Scotch College have been the First Division winners.

The development of rugby in Victoria has always been difficult as it is the home of Australian Rules, but it has survived. The parent union, the Victorian Rugby Union, is one of the oldest in Australia as its predecessor the Melbourne Rugby Union was formed in 1888 to play a British touring side. A Victorian team of expatriate New Zealanders, South Africans and Britons went to Sydney in 1889 and built the code up so successfully that in 1926 it boasted a 13,000 strong crowd at the Carlton Australian Rules Club ground when the All Blacks toured. This spurred on Victoria, who had a strong team in the 1930s, but World War II seemed to change the population's support and interest in rugby waned. Victoria did play the Lions of 1959 but were easily defeated 53 - 18. Victoria has been able to produce its share of Australian representatives despite this, to date thirty- four in all. The famous Sir Edward ("Weary") Dunlop in 1932 and 1934 was our first Victorian born Test player. This powerful tall number 8 became an extremely eminent Australian serving as the only surgeon for the Australian and British troops in Singapore's notorious Changai Prison and the Thai-Burma railway during the Japanese occupation.

 

"Weary" completed a career in which he was known as one of the world's foremost experts in tropical diseases. He served our union well over several years and honoured us for many of them as being Patron of the Victorian Schools Rugby Union. His stories of rugby matches all over the world including a scratch match against some Brits on a pitch drawn in the gravel, next to the sphinx in Egypt, kept all entertained. We were all saddened by his passing in 1993.

Other Victorians seem to have often been part of Australian teams. Two toured New Zealand as Wallabies in 1931, and three to South Africa in 1933. Owen Bridle was a flanker on the 1933 tour and Dave Cowper a centre. Cowper's son, Bob (ex Scotch College) played for Victoria in the 1960s and represented Australia twenty-seven times with a highest score of 307. Eric Davis went to Britain in 1947-48 and New Zealand in 1949, but the next Test player for Victoria wasn't until Robert Kat in 1958. During the 1960s, seven made the step up to International caps. These include - Paul Gibbs, David Shepherd and Dick Webb (all English born). In the 1970s, John Meadows with 22 caps in ten years and also Doug Osborne (New Zealand), became Wallabies.

In recent years, Andrew Hendry (Ivanhoe Grammar) played for Australia at the Maccabi Games in 1997, Ewen McKenzie (ex Scotch College) was almost permanently in the Wallaby team for a while and was part of the World Cup Champion team in 1991.He is currently one of the assistant coaches to the Wallabies. Ben Farley (ex Yarra Valley) played fullback in the Australian Under 19 team in 1993 and David Palavi (St. Kevin's College) played in the Australian Schoolboys in 1995 in 1997. Andrew Heath (ex Scotch and one time VSRU Fixtures Secretary) gained full Wallaby status in 1996, and collected an array of International caps, including playing in the now famous Bledisloe Cup match of 1997 at the M.C.G. in front of a hometown record-breaking crowd. The 90,119 were an Australian rugby attendance record.

Ewan McKenzie

 

AHeath - Large Image

Ewen McKenzie

 

Andrew Heath


The last few seasons have been very successful for the VSRU Open team. They won the Division II Championship 7 times from1994 -2000, going through defeating Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory. Many Victorian players were selected for the Australian Division II teams over these years as well as the Australian Schoolboys and the Development Team. The 1997 UK and Ireland Tour Captain, Tamaiti Horua (St. Kevin's College) played in the Australian U/19s at the World Cup in 2000 and the Australian U/21 team in 2001. The VSRU have a splendid record in touring, having been 4 times to the UK as well as the USA, Canada, SE Asia, and NZ in the last 20 years. Melbourne is now a regular test venue for the Wallabies with sell out crowds. Now we look forward to our current crop of Victorian Schools players being the backbone of the probable Super-13 team, based in Victoria, the next few years.

 

Current full members:
Brighton Grammar School
Carey Grammar School
Geelong Grammar School
Ivanhoe Grammar School
Marcellin College
Melbourne Grammar School
Melbourne High School
Scotch College
St Kevin's College
Thornbury-Darebin Secondary College
Trinity Grammar School
Xavier College
St. John's Regional College (Dandenong)

Associate members:
Kew High School
Parade College
St Bernard's College
St Patrick's College
Whitefriars College

Past members include:
Assumption College
Hailebury College
Sandringham Secondary College
St Bede's College
Yarra Valley Anglican School
Wesley College

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Sir Edward Dunlop
  Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop





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