Play-offs loom in the 1919 King’s Cup…

The Services teams from Down Under finally clashed at Bradford after a snow-postponement, and the against-the-odds Aussie win helped the Mother Country in their hopes of forcing a play-off for the 1919 Kings Cup…

This was the match postponed from March 22nd due to three inches of snow on the pitch, and tournament results during the delay meant a New Zealand win would give them the cup given by King George However, in the glorious way of sporting competition, it was to be a huge upset. New Zealand suffered a one-point defeat as Australia dug deep and handed the ‘All Blacks’ their first beating of the tournament.

1Both sides had been in action just four days earlier, but it was thought by some to be a formality for New Zealand that would give them the Cup. Others believed that the great effort by the Mother Country had tired New Zealand – their pack in particular – and that Australia had the forwards to fully stretch them on Bradford’s new Lidget Green pitch.

The Australians were a varied group captained by New Zealand-born Lieutenant William “Billy” Watson, MC and Bar, DCM and DSO.  Watson, a prop, had won his first Australian cap against the American All-Stars in 1912 on a notably unsuccessful tour of North America when Australia managed to lose all their games in Canada. The following year he played in all three Tests when Australia toured New Zealand and played in a return match the following year in Sydney, before it was time to join up.

Watson had suffered in a mustard gas attack late in the war in October 1918, causing outbreaks of festering sores. Just such an outbreak occurred before the big match against New Zealand, but Watson calmly called for a medic to lance and dress the sores as well as possible before playing with blood seeping through.

Centre Dan Carroll had won an Olympic gold medal with Australia in London in 1908, (possibly less than 17 at the time) and then after the 1912 tour settled in California, where he became a stalwart of the American team. He was to win a second Olympic gold medal in 1920, this time with the USA, though stories of his having further acted as coach to the successful 1924 squad seem to lack foundation.

Aussie skipper Bill Watson’s policy was to move the ball to the open spaces in the first half and close the game up into the wind after the break, while also seeking to ensure that NZ’s dangerous match-winning wingers, Percy Storey and ‘Jockey’ Ford, were starved of the ball. New Zealand aided their own downfall by passing the ball unusually slowly, and Australia may have won by more than one point had they not missed penalty chances at goal.

It is interesting to note the comments of someone who well remembered the pre-schism days and the original ‘colonial’ tourists, and was also accustomed to seeing rugby played for a trophy. That Australian pack impressed one and all on the day, and at least prevented New Zealand from carrying off the King’s Cup with games to spare. The cutting shows what ‘Old Ebor’ (the Welsh-born A W Pullin) made of the game in the local Yorkshire press.


In fine conditions a crowd of at least 6,000 saw Australia gain the advantage of winning the toss, electing to play with the wind and have the sun shining into New Zealand eyes. The Aussies led by 6-0 at the interval, ‘Bluey’ Thompson scoring the first try when Jack O’Brien made a rare mistake and had his kick charged-down. Then, after full back Jackie Beith hit a post with a penalty some good Australian passing put in winger ‘Pat’ Egan for the second score, but neither was converted.


With the wind behind them, though with the sun receding, New Zealand clawed their way back into the game with an early second-half try by ‘that man’, Storey, which centre Jack Stohr converted.

6-5: there was just a point in it and New Zealand might have thought they could get the score they needed, but they had reckoned without the Australian forward effort, especially by their marauders in the loose. The tackling on both sides was hard, fair and solid and the Australian pack won the day, finished the game the better, but exited the competition.

That the Cup remained very much up for grabs was thanks in no small measure to Jimmy Clarken. Making his debut in the Cup, forwards’ coach Clarken was mainly responsible for disrupting the New Zealand 2-3-2 scrum formation: yet he was aged 42 years and 10 months at the time and the only new face on either side!

The result set the competition alight and meant that a Mother Country win over South Africa in three days’ time would see both them and New Zealand achieve a record of four wins and one loss – triggering a play-off game at Twickenham, won 6-3 a week later by New Zealand.

New Zealand –J G O’Brien; W A Ford, L B Stohr, P W Storey; J Ryan (capt); D M Sandman, C Brown; A P Singe, E W Hasell, R Sellars, E L J Cockcroft, N A Wilson, H G Whittington, E A Belliss, A Gilchrist.

Try – Storey. Con – Stohr.

Australia – B M Beith; D C Suttor, D B Carroll, H R Pountney, M (Pat) Egan; J Robertson, T W Flanagan; W T Watson (capt), V A Dunn, E A S Cody, W R Bradley, J Thompson, G E See, J Murray, J C Clarken.

Tries – Thompson, Egan.

Referee – Not known.

About the Authors – Much of the above is taken from ‘The King’s Cup Front Cover (3)1919: Rugby’s First ‘World Cup’, by Howard Evans & Phil Atkinson, published in December 2015 by St David’s Press and available from them, Amazon and other online outlets.  Howard is a respected rugby writer, who was for many years a rugby correspondent for the South Wales Echo and the Western Mail;  Phil is a retired headmaster and history teacher, President of Rhymney RFC and Editor of the Rugby Memorabilia Society’s magazine, ‘Touchlines’.

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3 Responses to Play-offs loom in the 1919 King’s Cup…

  1. Lawrence Denis Freitas says:

    So, why was Danny Carroll back in the Australian team at this time? He actually served in the US Army as a second lieutenant during the last few months of the Great War, where he won the Distinguished Service Cross for action at Bios-de-Cheppy in September of 1918. He also was awarded a Purple Heart. I can only assume that at some time after this services rugby tournament, in which, unfortunately, an American team (it would have been a team made up of Californians) wasn’t involved, as rugby was widely played in the Golden State from 1906 until 1917. He had to have returned to California, to continue his studies in geology, for he earned a degree from Stanford University in 1920 in that field at the age of 32, and in the meantime continued his athletics by playing one year on the post-rugby era football team (American football) in the fall of 1919, the American version of the sport having been re-established in the fall of 1918 on the campus, as rugby basically disappeared from athletics that year, as the state of California had been the only one out of the then-current 48 in which any rugby was played to any great extent: high schools, universities, and adult clubs. So, Carroll played four years of rugby at Stanford, and one of American football, after he decided to stay in America following that Australian tour to California and Canada in the fall of 1912
    Carroll only played with the 1920 American Olympic team at Antwerp, not the 1924. It was Charles Austin, an American who played rugby at Stanford in 1913, 1914, and 1915, afterwards becoming coach at Santa Clara University in 1916 and 1917, who would coach the ’24 team that won gold in Paris. Austin and Carroll both appeared in a “test” in California in the fall of 1913 against New Zealand, on a team made up primarily of university players from the various San Francisco Bay Area schools. They also played on the Stanford team that took the pitch against New Zealand on one of their many games while on tour in California.

    Liked by 1 person

    • rhymboy1 says:

      Good Stuff Lawrence. Robert Messenger in Australia is working on a book about the remarkable D B. Carroll. Phil Atkinson.


      • Lawrence Denis Freitas says:

        I will want to read that book went it comes out. Thanks for the information. No one has quite gotten to writing a book about that rugby era in California during the first two decades of the 20th century. I’m thinking about doing so. Unfortunately, anyone who played then is long gone. Certain players from that time were interviewed, back in the 1980’s, and articles published in various American rugby magazines and even some newspapers in California. “For the Glory,” by Mark Ryan of the UK, is an excellent account of the 1920 and 1924 Olympic American teams, with a focus on two players: Colby Slater and Rudy Sholz, whose more well-known cousin Jackson Sholz starred in track and field in the ’24 Olympics. Of course rugby enthusiasts in America, for a few decades now, have been hoping someone in the film industry would take on a project about either of those teams, something along the lines of the film “Chariots of Fire.”


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