Arthur Percival Penman
- 69Wallaby Number
Arthur Penman made only one tour with Australia, being a member of the first national side to venture overseas. That side, which visited New Zealand in 1905, did not enjoy great success despite many feeling they were one of the stronger Australian sides assembled to that time and Penman, who played either fullback or centre, was confined for the most part to defensive duties. He was a promising 20-year-old when he took his place in all three Sydney matches against the 1905 New Zealand team, who were making a short visit to Australia before setting out on their epic tour of Britain. Penman played the first inter-state match and for Metropolitan as a centre but shifted to fullback for the second State match. The home sides were severely limited in what they achieved on attack – the visitors did not concede a try in the three matches – but improving defensive work by the home sides meant performance improved with each outing and the last match, somewhat surprisingly, resulted in an 8-8 draw.
Penman, whose form had been as good as anyone’s, was virtually assured of his touring place well before the team was named. In New Zealand life was tough and the forwards could not win enough ball for the backs to prove threatening. Injuries did not help the team, although the loss of Phil Carmichael, the premier fullback, ensured Penman would win a Test cap. He had started the first match in the last line with Carmichael in the centres but the team effort was much better after the two had swapped places late in the first spell. In the Christchurch match and with Carmichael now injured, Frank Smith started at fullback with Penman in the centres but, once again, the players swapped positions with benefit to the side. Penman turned in a fine display and was the best visiting back on show, clearing the lines well despite being under some heavy pressure. That display ensured he was the Test fullback and a tougher test of a last line’s ability than the one he was about to face would be hard to imagine. That Test was unusual, in that the venue was changed at the 11th hour because of inclement weather. Dunedin had received a soaking in the days leading up to the match and serious thought was given to either postponing or abandoning the fixture, although ultimately it was resolved to play but to transfer the game from the Caledonian Ground, where the surface would be adequate for growing oysters but not playing rugby, to Tahuna Park, a sand-based oval near the beach. It was still blowing and raining hard but at least the underfoot going was better, although the foul conditions meant a ‘crowd’ of only 3000 turned out and the takings, ₤85, probably remain an all-time low for any Test.
Australia won the toss and had first use of the wind but made a hash of it, playing poorly and spending most of the half defending. New Zealand turned at 3-3 with the game all but won, although the Kiwis were smart enough to realise that the wind would not do the job for them. The second spell featured non-stop attacks from the home team, who scored another 11 points, and a much better display from Australia. Penman was one of the stars, as his defensive work reached a high level, but a report of the match suggests he spent the 40 minutes doing little more than fielding ball after ball and getting them over the touchline. Noted in all accounts as one of the best players on the park, Penman was highly praised for his courage and skill. The Australians, winless to that point, turned the tour around with three victories in as many matches after the Test. Penman made the break that led to the vital try in Palmerston North – he almost scored himself but gave Doug McLean the try on a plate – and gave another sound display at fullback at Hawera after once again switching places with Smith after a few minutes play.
Despite this fine beginning to his career, the young man was soon lost to Australian rugby. A soldier by profession – he later rose as high as lieutenant-colonel in the army – his time was soon claimed by the requirements of officer training and his days in big-time football were numbered.