Rochdale Hornets scrum half Johnny Nolan made British & Irish Lions history on this day in 1888 when he became the first player to score a hat-trick of tries for the touring team.
Nolan struck three times in the 4-0 win over Canterbury at Lancaster Park (1 point per try in those days) as Robert Seddon’s pioneers made it four wins in a row at the start of their 35 match tour of New Zealand and Australia.
With doubles over Otago and Canterbury behind them, the tourists left the south island and headed north to Wellington. This is what the Otago Witness had to say at the end of their match report: “The Englishmen leave tomorrow evening by steamer for Wellington, where they will play on Saturday next. Their trip so far has been a remarkably pleasant one, but they still declare that they will not find any place like Dunedin and that they will never forget the hospitality of their Otago friends.”
Born in 1862 in Rochdale, Nolan went on to score 15 tries on tour, including two hat-tricks. This is how he was described in his tour biography: “The scrum-half was recognised as a player of considerable promise when playing in local rugby and was signed by the Hornets in 1884. Following two successful seasons, when he scored 19 and 24 tries, his brilliant play was rewarded through the award of a county cap in season 1887-88 and his selection for this Tour.”
One of seven brothers and a daughter born to Irish parents, Nolan had seven children himself. He started working life in the cotton trade at the age of 11.
Following his rugby career, Nolan suffered an early death at the age of 43 in 1907. This was the result of fatal injuries sustained in a scaffolding accident while he was working on the extensions to the Atlas Mills in the Waterloo district.