As the British & Irish Lions prepare to step into the unknown against the Combined New South Wales and Queensland Country XV in Newcastle on Tuesday night there is one thing that history can teach them – expect the unexpected!
The Lions have played six times in the industrial city in the northern part of New South Wales and each match has thrown up something new. What will the 125th anniversary tour return to the city bring for Warren Gatland’s men?
Games are always tough in this rugged part of the world and years ago a Newcastle player was warned for carrying a loaded whip with himonto the field of play.
GAME 1 – 29 August, 1888
Northern Districts 7, British & Irish Lions 14 – Newcastle Cricket Ground
The original game was due to be played on 16 August, but had to be called off because of the tragic death called off because of the tragic death of the Lions captain, Robert Seddon, in a rowing accident on the Hunter River in nearby West Maitland.
The replayed fixture was the last the pioneering Lions played in Australia before sailing back to New Zealand for a second period. The Lions were short of players and probably only took the field with 11 players..
GAME 2 – 27 July, 1899
Northern Districts 0, British & Irish Lions 28 – Union Football Ground
The Northern Districts captain Wally Cobb, who was born and bred in Newcastle, was sensationally sent off for kicking in the scrum, thus becoming the first player to be dismissed in a game involving the Lions. This is how the local newspaper reporter saw the incident: “A regrettable incident occurred towards the end of the match when the captain of the Northerners was ordered by the referee to leave the field for having committed a breach of the rules by kicking in the scrum. The decision was not favourably received, and unfortunately a large number of spectators expressed their disaffection by hooting the umpire.”
The Lions were leading 15-0 when Cobb was sent off. And they romped to victory after his departure. He went on to play against the tourists again when he made his Wallaby debut in the third test in Sydney. The Lions won 11-10 and went on to clinch the series 3-1.
GAME 3 – 6 July, 1904
Northern Districts 3, British & Irish Lions 17 – Newcastle Cricket Ground
High drama once again in Newcastle as the Devon and England forward Denys Dobson became the first British & Irish Lion to be sent off. His crime? To question the referee’s decision and utter the immortal words “what the devil was that for” after the tourists had once again been penalised.
Here is the headline from the Sydney Morning herald the next morning and their account of the incident:
MATCH AGAINST COMBINED NORTHERN DISTRICTS
VISITORS WIN BY 17 TO 3
A REGRETTABLE INCIDENT
BRITISH PLAYER ORDERED OFF THE FIELD
The British footballers met a Northern District team on the Rugby Football Ground this afternoon and won, after a fast game, by 17 points to 3. The weather was fine but cloudy, and the attendance numbered about 3500. A regrettable incident occurred immediately after the commencement of the second half. The umpire, Mr H Dolan accused Dobson, of the British team, of using an offensive expression towards him and ordered the alleged offender off the ground. Dobson denied using the expression and the British captain, taking the matter as a personal affront to the whole team, left the ground with his comrades. After a delay of 20 minutes they returned, however, and concluded the game with 13 men, Jowett having been placed hors de combat in the early part of the game.
. . . the second half had only just started when serious trouble arose between the referee and Dobson of the British team. Some hard ruck work was in progress, and the referee gave two free kicks. At the second one he stopped the game in consequence he alleged of Dobson using an obscene remark to him. He ordered the British player off the field. Dobson, it is said, denied using the expression. The British captain signalled to his men, and the whole of the British team walked off the ground to their dressing room. The incident only occupied a second or two and took the spectators by surprise as they could not realise what had happened. After a lapse of about 10 minutes Sivright, the English captain, and Morgan, the vice-captain, walked across from the British quarters and conferred with the referee. The Britishers were willing to continue the game but insisted on Dobson being allowed to play. The referee, however, held to his decision stating he would not officiate if Dobson were allowed on the ground. The British captain and his lieutenant returned to the dressing room and it seemed al si the game had ended, but after a delay of fully 20 minutes the Britishers returned without Dobson and resumed the game with 13 men. They were greeted with a ringing cheer.
STATEMENT OF THE BRITISH CAPTAIN
Mr Sivright, when asked before leaving for Brisbane tonight if he had anything to communicate with respect to the disagreeable incident referred to, said that his reason for taking the men off the field was that he regarded the umpire’s action as a personal insult to Dobson, and throwing a reflection on the personal character of the team. Dobson was one of the quietest and most gentlemanly members of the team and Mr Sivright refused to believe he would he guilty of the expression imputed to him, or anything like it. He had made inquiries and ascertained that the umpire was standing with his back to Dobson when he heard something said, and, turning round ordered Dobson off the field without making any inquiry. Dobson had denied using the words attributed to him, and any remark he had made was not addressed to the umpire at all, but to one of his own comrades.
VIEW OF THE UMPIRE
Mr Dolan the umpire, on the other hand, stated that he had satisfied himself before taking up his position in the matter
GAME 4 – 19 August, 1908
Newcastle 0, British & Irish Lions 32 – Newcastle Cricket Ground
Wales wing Johnnie Williams raced over for a hat-trick of tries as the Lions put the local side to the sword. They scored eight tries in all in their biggest win of the tour in either New Zealand or Australia.
GAME 5 – 19 August, 1950
New South Wales 17, British & Irish Lions 12 – Newcastle Cricket Ground
After a gap of 42 years the Lions returned to Newcastle to meet the full NSW state side for the second time on tour. They had comfortably won the opening encounter 22-6 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This Was the Lions only defeat in Australia on the 1950 tour and they were undone by a brace of tries each from wing Clarrie Davis and rampaging forward Nick Shehadie.
GAME 6 – 19 July, 1989
New South Wales Country 13, British & Irish Lions 72 – No 2 Sportsground
After another major gap, this time 39 years, the Lions celebrated having wrapped up the Test series four days earlier by running in 14 tries in their biggest score to date on Australian soil. Brendan Mullin scored a hat-trick and Peter Dods kicked eight conversions,heri first visit?
I wonder what is in store for the Lions and their fans in Newcastle 125 years on from their first visit?