Barry Arthur Wright
Barry Wright was an exceptional schoolboy athlete who became the youngest player to captain an Australian Rugby Union touring team.
Of solid build, Wright was a strong running centre with a deceptive swerve who possessed sharp acceleration and a near-innate ability to penetrate the defensive line. His own defence was aggressive and Alan Ware, who toured with the Wallabies to New Zealand in 1949, said of Wright, “he is one of the best tacklers I have known.” Eddie Bonis, Wallaby #261 and later a national selector, considered Wright to be “one of the best junior players Australia has developed.”
Born and bred in the small Queensland town of Goomeri, Wright attended the local State school before he left to board at Ipswich Grammar. Wright played three seasons in both the school’s 1st XV and 1st XI (1951-53). He twice represented the GPS (All Schools) 1st XV (1952-53), alongside fellow future Wallabies Kevin Ryan, Kerry Larkin, Ken Donald and Alister Boyd. Wright was also a member of the tennis and athletic teams.
In 1954, and after only two ‘A’ grade matches, the just-turned-18 Wright was asked to “run with the State team”, before being named as a reserve for the clash with New South Wales. Less than three weeks later Wright came off the bench to replace Gavan Horsley, and in doing so win the first of his 16 Queensland caps, during the 16-53 loss to Fiji.
Soon thereafter the Australian Rugby Union accepted an invitation to send a team to Tonga. Players, who personally had to fund £125 for travel expense, were invited to nominate through their respective unions. Six nominations came from Queensland including Wright and future Wallaby coach Bob Templeton. From a total of 35 applicants the ARU selected a 19-man squad and appointed Wright as captain for the six-game tour, one which included a single match in Fiji on its way to Tonga and another on the return journey. The Australian XV lost both matches in Fiji but split the unofficial “Test” series 1-1 with the Tongans.
In 1955 the third interstate fixture between NSW and Queensland at North Sydney Oval doubled as the Wallaby trial ahead of the tour to New Zealand. Wright found himself chosen out of position at outside centre and the visitors were humbled 0-45. Worse still the Waratah centres - brothers Jim and Peter Phipps - scored seven of the 11 tries. Despite that result Wright made the team, alongside both Phipps brothers and another New South Welshman, Gordon Davis.
Australia lost the first two Tests, the first with Cyril Burke at inside centre and the second with Dick Tooth - a late substitute for the injured Peter Phipps - partnering Jim Phipps. With the series lost Wright was firmly in the mix for a debut in the third Test at Eden Park after he performed strongly in the win over Wanganui-King Country. Unfortunately the selectors erred on the side of caution, switched Tooth to fly-half and moved Gordon Davis out to the centres. Their choice was vindicated after the Wallabies emerged with a surprise 8-3 victory. Wright started in five of the 10 uncapped matches during the tour and was one of the few Australians to return home with a 100% win record.
The following year Saxon White emerged to secure the inside centre spot for the home series against South Africa however at the end of the season Wright faced a great dilemma. Should he make himself available for the Fourth Wallabies tour to Britain and France or pursue his career? Wright then made the difficult decision to give up the chance for a spot on one of the great tours to take on a pharmacy apprenticeship back in Goomeri. He eventually returned to Brisbane in 1959, linked up with the Wests club, and represented Queensland for three consecutive seasons (1959-61).
In 1962 Wright switched to rugby league, with Northern Suburbs, where he won successive premierships and played out his football career under legendary coach Bobby Bax.
Wright played five uncapped matches on Australia’s tour to New Zealand - vs. Poverty Bay-East Coast (W 15-6); vs. West Coast-Buller (W 13-3); vs. Southland (W 11-5); vs. Canterbury (W 19-8); and vs. Wanganui-King Country (W 38-8).