Alexander William (Alec) Ross
- 211Wallaby Number
Alec Ross ranks with the greatest fullbacks to ever play Test rugby. Peter Fenton, in For The Sake Of The Game wrote of Ross’ performances on the 1927/28 Waratahs tour: “A wonderfully gifted all round player, Ross had the essential anticipation for fullback play as well as superb handling and kicking skills. His courage and technique in stopping the foot rushes of the British forwards became a feature of his play. He rarely missed a tackle and many attackers preferred to kick past him rather than try to beat him.” Ross was one of the sensations of that tour. Excluding the North American leg, Ross started a remarkable 31 of the tour’s 33 games, including the first 21 straight.
Prolific Australian sports journalist said of Ross: ‘One of rugby’s greatest fullbacks. He was a masterly tactician, not particularly fast, but gifted with great anticipation and a guileful grasp of positional play, a marvelous exponent of the punt kick, and a safe tackler and catcher of the ball in all conditions. His duels with the great NZ Maori fullback George Nepia provided some of the great highlights of Australia’s rugby past.’
Born in Cundletown, just outside of Taree on the New South Wales mid-North Coast, Ross was educated at Sydney Grammar School where he played two years in both the 1st XV and 1st XI (1922-23) and represented the Combined GPS 1st XV and 1st XI in his final year. After school Ross enrolled in Medicine at the University of Sydney and within a few months of his 1924 first grade debut he was selected in Roy Cooney’s XV for the New South Wales’ trials.
Otto Nothling wore the state’s fullback jersey that season however a year later Ross was chosen graduated from the trials to earn a start in the opening ‘Test’ against New Zealand. Although he did not know it at the time that match was Ross’ official Test debut after an ARU decision in 1994 elevated the remaining 34 New South Wales matches played against international opposition in the 1920-28 period to Test status (the five 1927/28 Waratahs’ internationals were given Test status in 1986).
From that debut through until his retirement in 1934 Ross only missed national selection due to University commitments or injury. Ahead of the grand Waratahs tour there was much debate and anticipation about the makeup of the 29-man strong squad however local commentators believed that there were in fact only 28 vacancies with Ross - on the basis that his initial entry into international football had won him the right to be ranked as the greatest full-back the State had known - the lone certainty. On that tour Ross won plaudits from the press and public alike for his near flawless exhibitions. Never showy in style he was consistency personified while the bigger the occasion the better he played. In 1929 Ross was part of the first Australian side to sweep a three Test series against the All Blacks however early the next year it was speculated that Ross would not be seen in action after he had failed his end-of-year final exams.
Ross lost the best part of a year's study when he toured with the Waratahs and felt that he could no longer jeopardise his prospects by playing rugby. Despite that decision to step away from the game Ross was still chosen by the representative selectors after they had seen him play an inter-varsity match for St Andrew’s College. Ross answered the call and played a crucial role as Australia beat the touring British Lions. Ross made his only tour to New Zealand in 1932. Chester and McMillan, who summarised the tour in The Visitors many years later, wrote: “[Ross] showed that his reputation as one of the world’s finest fullbacks was well warranted”.
In 1933 Ross led the Wallabies on their first ever tour to South Africa. Unfortunately he was struck down with appendicitis after eight games and missed two-and-a-half weeks, a period that included the first three internationals. All told he played in just 11 of the 23 matches, the highlight of which was the fifth Test, 15-4 victory in Bloemfontein. Ross retired on one of the great highs in 1934 after he captained Australia to their first ever Bledisloe Cup series win. Incredibly it was another 45 years before the Wallabies managed to win a second series on home soil. He later became a selector for both New South Wales and Australia. In 2009 Ross was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame. Alec Ross played 20 Tests for Australia in a ten-year international career.
Ross won his first Test cap at fullback in the 1st Test, 3-26 loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. Press reviews of that match suggested that ‘the one really bright spot in the home backs play was the showing by Ross. He was beaten by [winger Bill] Elvy towards the close, but when one considers how often he saved the situation, after those in front had let the side down, this was only a trivial blemish. He handled, kicked, and tackled splendidly.’ Ross was then the only back, and one of three players in total, to be retained for the second Test and just one of two who played in all three matches of the series. Unfortunately Ross was unavailable for the return tour to New Zealand due to the pressure of his University examinations.
Ross started at fullback in the opening three Tests against New Zealand before a shoulder injury picked up in the second match was exacerbated in the third to rule him out of the hastily arranged and previously unscheduled fourth international.
He started and starred in all five Tests on the Waratahs’ tour against Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England and France.
Following the long eight-month Waratahs tour Ross declared himself unavailable for the three Test tour of New Zealand.
Ross started at fullback in the 1st Test, 9-8 win over New Zealand but then missed the second and third matches of that series due to synovitis of the knee.
He was capped at fullback in the season’s lone international; the 6-5 win over the British Lions at the S.C.G.
Ross played in both Tests on the tour to New Zealand; the 14-3 win over the Maori in Palmerston North and the 13-20 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park
Ross withdrew with strained thigh muscles from the first Test of the three match home series against New Zealand but returned to start each of the final two internationals.
He captained Australia on their first ever tour to South Africa but suffered appendicitis and as a result missed each of the first three Tests. Jack Steggall was retained at fullback for the fourth Test however Ross returned to captain the Wallabies a 15 to 4 victory in the fifth and final Test at Springbok Park.
Ross led the Wallabies in both Tests against New Zealand as Australia won the Bledisloe Cup on home soil for the first time.