Andrew Alexander Laurie
Known as Mr Football at the Walcha club in the mountains of the New England region of NSW, and “Addles” to the universal rugby fraternity, few can match Andrew Laurie’s contribution as a player, coach and administrator for country rugby union. Laurie’s senior playing career began in Walcha in 1951, the same year and club as future Wallaby captain Peter Fenwicke, and continued until 1966.
He attended 28 consecutive Country Week carnivals from 1952 until 1979, either as a player with New England or Central North, as a coach, or as a selector. No-one will ever know how many games he played, how many training nights he attended, how many players he coached, how many games he watched, how many fellows he approached in the street or in the bar on Saturday mornings to “make up the numbers”, how many rugby committee meetings he attended, or how many kilometres he covered in the cause of rugby union. How many stars are there in the sky?
Born at Walcha in 1931, he had an early taste of rugby union at Mosman Preparatory School before attending the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) where he played for the First XV and just missed out on selection in the GPS First XV. On returning to Walcha, he had thoughts of becoming a great centre, but the club had other ideas. At 90kg, and very strong to boot, he was cajoled into playing flanker. There was talk at that early stage of making him a hooker, but he debated whether it was a specialist position. He accepted the move to the side of the scrum and within a season became one of the best back-rowers in the zone, making his Country Week debut for New England in 1953, along with Fenwicke at number eight.
The following year he played second-row for the zone at Country Week and against the visiting Fijians.
In 1956 he played his third position for New England when he locked the scrum while Fenwicke was representing NSW Country.
Walcha entered the Central Northern zone in 1958 and Laurie was a member of the Country Week team that defeated ACT for the Richardson Cup. The player profile for the match listed him as 25 and “capable of playing anywhere in the pack”. He was, in fact, 27 and four years away from becoming a Wallaby, when he was officially listed as being “29”.
On the advice of former Australian hooker Eddie Thompson, Laurie shifted to hooker in 1959 and made the NSW Country Seconds. His robust displays at Country Week in 1960 saw him selected in Country Firsts and following a strong showing against City and against the All Blacks at Orange, he was selected as hooker for NSW. He also toured New Zealand with the NSW Country squad captained by Fenwicke.
The 1962 season was one of highs and lows. He was hooker in the Northern NSW side demolished 103-nil by the All Blacks at Quirindi. He also represented Central North at Country Week and Combined Country and was vying for a spot on the Wallaby tour of New Zealand later in the season. His hopes rose when he was selected for The Rest against Australia. News of his selection in the Australian squad was greeted with great joy, not just in Walcha, but throughout Central North. While he was a formidable opponent, Laurie was also a sportsman and highly regarded wherever he played.
Although he did not play a Test on the tour – his old adversary Peter Johnson was a hard man to dislodge – he played against Poverty Bay, Horowhenua, Buller-West Coast, Southland and Thames Valley. Laurie made three trips to New Zealand in 1964 – with Petersham Old Boys, with Combined Country and later with the 1964 Wallabies. He played for NSW Country, NSW and in the Wallaby trials in 1965, but no more higher honours came his way and he did not get to fulfill his dream of playing a Test for Australia. His long-time team-mate at Walcha and NSW, Peter Fenwicke, said Laurie might have achieved his dream had he switched to hooker earlier in his career. After turning out for Central North in 1966, Laurie called a halt to representative football and concentrated on playing and coaching at Walcha. He was a Zone selector for many years, coached Central North and Northern Province in 1969 and took Walcha to a Central North title in 1971 with a team that included a number of local juniors. Laurie had campaigned from 1955 to introduce rugby union into the town school and was a proud man when the idea bore fruit.
Laurie’s contributions to football were not just confined to the playing field. He was club secretary for six years, a committeeman for 28 years, a Zone delegate for 21 years, and president of Walcha club from 1975 until his untimely death in 1979.
Laurie was a warm and caring man with a charming personality and a devilish wit, whose frequent trips to town from his showcase “Boree” property always lasted longer than he planned because he would stop to talk to all and sundry. His early demise was a great loss to rugby.
Laurie played for Shore 1st XV 1949, Walcha, NSW Country, NSW and Australia. ‘Addles’ used to claim that his greatest claim to fame was that he played hooker for Northern NSW, which set the world record defeat of 0-103 at the hands of New Zealand at Quirindi in 1962. Having begun as an ambitious centre, before becoming a breakaway in Peter Fenwicke’s Walcha team of 1953 and being versatile enough to play in the second row for New England against the Fijians in 1954, Laurie was persuaded, despite his height, to become a hooker.
His form at Country Week in 1960 won him selection in Country Firsts against City and against the All Blacks in Orange. He was picked for NSW and later for the Rest against Australia and was chosen for the Australian tour of New Zealand in 1962. He was destined to become a permanent back-up to Peter Johnson who wrote of the lead-up to the Test at Auckland on 22 September: “As we went through our paces those ‘dirt-trackers’…trained at the other end of Eden Park under…Jack McLean. As he left the field one of their number, the estimable ‘Addles’ Laurie, a man with a wicked sense of humour, seemed upset. ’All my life I’ve wanted to step onto Eden Park and when I finally do, what happens? I spend the entire session playing a child’s game called ‘red rover’, a kind of chase and catch thing. And if that wasn’t humiliating enough Jack McLean, who took part, insisted he wasn’t caught because I hadn’t completed the proper count ‘red rover one, two, three. He made me sit in the stand. Fair dinkum, I don’t know which of us is the craziest, Jack or me.’”
Laurie toured New Zealand again, with John Thornett’s team of 1964. He played in the Wallaby trials in 1965 before retiring from representative football in 1966 to serve Walcha until his death in 1979.