Arthur Cooper "Johnnie" Wallace

  • 8Caps
  • 176Wallaby Number
Date Of BirthSeptember 5, 1900
Place of BirthMacksville, NSW
Other ClubGPS Old Boys (Sydney), Glebe-Balmain, Oxford University
Service NumberN281603
SchoolSydney Grammar School
Debut ClubUniversity (Sydney)
Debut Test Match1921 Wallabies v New Zealand, Chirstchurch
Final Test Match1928 Wallabies v France, Paris
DiedMarch 11, 1975


Johnnie Wallace was another Sydney Grammar School product to reach the top level of rugby. His potential was obvious, and though Wallace had no international experience he was taken to New Zealand with the NSW team in 1921. He played in five of the 10 games, including one against NZ in what is now regarded as a Test. He scored four tries in his five games. Johnnie surprisingly never got a Blue at Sydney University, but won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 1922. Other Sydney University players who preceded him with this great distinction were such as H.V. Porteus and Howard Bullock ,and ‘Pup’ Raymond was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship the next year.

The timing was perfect for Wallace, who won ‘Blues’ at Oxford in 1922-23-24-25. He also played for Scotland, as did his fellow Oxford rugby backs Ian Smith, Phil McPherson and G.C. Aitken. He would represent Scotland nine times from 1923-26. On returning to Australia in 1926 he joined the Glebe-Balmain club, and was in two games for NSW against NZ, scoring a fine try in the second encounter. In 1927-28 he was chosen as the captain of the 1927-28 nine-month long tour of the British Isles, France and North America. He had not captained a representative team to this point in his career. It is interesting who might have been chosen if he were not available.

The logical candidates were Ted Thorn, Charlie Fox and Tom Lawton. The choice of Wallace was a master stroke. He was well known in the British Isles through his association with Oxford and Scotland. Peter Fenton, in For The Sake Of The Game wrote that Wallace “proved to be a magnificent captain. Despite a strained thigh and a broken wrist which limited his appearances early in the tour, he played 21 matches, including the five internationals and scored 11 tries. His experience in England, as well as his own natural ability, tactical brilliance and influence on the younger players were major reasons for the team’s on-field successes.

He was a great teacher.” As for his teaching, Cyril Towers, who was barely 21-years-of-age, always credited Johnny Wallace for his timing of the pass, a feature of his game that later made Cyril famous. Wallace told him firmly: “Give me the ball when I call for it!” When Wallace called “Now!”, he got the ball, and Towers slowly but surely started to appreciate the value of the moment when the pass should be given. The Waratahs were a great success on the field, and despite the injury rate and Bowers asking to go back to Australia, they played 31 games on the tour proper for 24 wins, two draws and five losses. They won three of the five internationals, and in all scored 432 points from 98 tries, 52 conversions, 8 penalty goals and two field goals.

They conceded 207 points which included 43 tries. Wallace, in a speech on his return, noted: “Every man went into the game wholeheartedly and did his utmost. Australia should be especially proud of the team considering that the Waratahs were picked from nine clubs, while England has 40,000 players to draw from.” After they got home the Waratahs would have regular meetings, recounting the same good, old stories and the wonderful things that happened to them. ‘Jock’ Blackwood, Wylie Breckenridge, Wally Meagher and Arnold Tancred became Presidents of the NSWRU, while Blackwood and Breckenridge became delegates to the IRB.

As for coaching and acting as selectors, almost all of the Waratahs made a significant contribution. As for Johnny Wallace, he opted out of representative rugby, but acted as a selector and coach for both NSW and Australia over many years, and went overseas as assistant manager-coach. One of his greatest victories occurred in 1937, when NSW upset the Springboks 17-6 on a waterlogged Sydney Cricket Ground. Always, till the end of his life, he extolled the Waratah style of play, the running game. As for his own style of play, he was equally adept anywhere in the three-quarter line, perhaps favouring the wing. He had a good turn of speed with a great outside break and was a magnificent finisher.

Peter Fenton, in summing him up in For The Sake Of The Game, wrote: “A man of great intellect, a brilliant orator, and the most popular of men, Wallace did not achieve all that he may have done in his private life. The Rhodes Scholar returned to his home of Macksville (the main road bears the name ‘Wallace’) to tend to the family business affairs after the death of his father. Later he returned to Sydney to become a non-practising barrister with the crown solicitor’s office. When he died, at The Entrance in 1975, his vice-captain Charlie Fox wrote, ‘By his death, an era covered by his life-long rugby interest is closed, but he will be remembered by many for his contribution to the remodelling and the rebuilding of the Australian Rugby game."

WALLACE, ARTHUR COOPER (‘JOHNNY’) (190-1975), footballer and barrister, was born on 5 September 1900 at Macksville, New South Wales, second child of native-born parents Mathew Wallace, storekeeper, and wife Isabel, nee Gellatley. He attended Sydney Grammar School where he played Rugby, rowed in three successive winning eights in the Athletic Association of the Great Public Schools ‘Head of the River’ regattas and was senior prefect in 1919. Resident in St Andrew’s College, he studied arts at the University of Sydney in 1920-22, won a rowing blue and excelled at Rugby Union.

A slim, dark and elegant three-quarter, he donned the waratah-crested jersey for the 1921 New South Wales Rugby tour of New Zealand. Awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1922, Wallace read jurisprudence at New College, Oxford (B.A.,1925) and was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn on 17 September 1925. He gained Rugby blues 1922-25. Of Caledonian stock, he was chosen with Ian Smith from Melbourne and two other Oxonian pals to play for Scotland. The Oxford three-quarter line proved a major strength in the 1925 Scottish ‘Grand Slam’. Johnny Wallace played nine times for Scotland and was in seven winning sides. Returning to Sydney, Wallace was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 12 March 1926.

He played for Glebe-Balmain and captained the 1927-28 Waratahs’ tour of Britain, France and Canada (since 1986 regarded as a fully Australian representative side). His captaincy was a success: Wallace’s team played exciting, open football with forwards and backs linking efficiently; they won against Ireland, Wales and France, but lost to Scotland and England. Back in Australia, Wallace gave up Rugby and became vice-principal at St Andrew’s College in 1928. He married Betty Jean Simson with Presbyterian forms at Gunnedah; they were to have two daughters. In 1930 Wallace settled down at his native Macksville as a grazier where he remained for a decade.

His interest in Rugby remained active and he coached the State and Australian sides against the 1937 Springboks en route for New Zealand and glory. In spite of the rain, on a very damp Sydney Cricket Ground the New South Wales team played a magnificent running and passing game, thrashing South Africa 17-6, with four tries to one. Divorced in June 1941, Wallace married Floris Ada Jago, a nursing sister, at Paddington, Sydney, on 14 July. He had been provisionally commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force in 1939, but was discharged next year after being injured in an accident. From October 1941 he served as a captain in the Australian Army Legal Department until 1944, then as hirings officer until 1946.

Practising at the Bar in Sydney until 1955, he was admitted as a solicitor on 29 July and worked in the Crown Solicitor’s Office until 1966. A life member and vice-president of the New South Wales Rugby Union, Wallace coached the Wallabies on their 1953 tour of South Africa where he again advocated a ‘running with the ball’ game. A smoker and a drinker, he died of myocardial infarction on 3 November 1975 at The Entrance and was cremated. He was survived by the two sons of his second marriage.

Arthur Cooper "Johnnie" Wallace