Cecil Egan Murnin
There are some people in any walk of life whose best efforts are frustrated by a series of accidents and mishaps that occur at the worst possible times. Cecil Murnin, a very good loose forward from the Edwardian era, was such a man and the wonder of it all is that he continued to play rugby for so long when it was clear the sporting gods had turned their collective backs on the Eastern Suburbs skipper.
It all started well enough, as he was chosen to make his debut for the State in 1904 and played against both Great Britain and Queensland. His good form continued into 1905, when he played against New Zealand during their short trip to Sydney and he was then chosen to make the return trip across the Tasman later in they year. From this point on his representative career was to be dogged by misfortune.
The rangy Murnin, who stood 6ft 2in (1.88m) and weighed 13st (82kg), lost out to Harold Judd for a Test place on tour, but he was developing nicely and was by no means a failure. Then Murnin suffered a broken collarbone in the match against Wanganui-Taranaki and, under the rule prevailing in New Zealand at that time which was used for matches between Australian and New Zealand teams, was replaced by Tom Colton. This was one of the rare instances of an Australian player being replaced before the universal law change was enacted in 1967, which permitted replacements for injury during the course of a match. Naturally that ended his season.
He captained New South Wales to its famous 14-0 win over the 1907 All Blacks but was not chosen for the first Test, losing out to Queensland’s Peter Flanagan. In an era when selection often had as much to do with economy drives as forward drives, there were a majority of Queenslanders in the team named for Brisbane and Murnin was never going to be chosen. But, dismayed by the poor results from the first two matches, the Australian selectors named the New South Wales team that had previously beaten the All Blacks en masse for the third Test and Murnin was finally scheduled to win his cap. However, his sister died in the days before the match and he had to scratch from the team.
He was offered the post of assistant manager (and probably coach) of the First Wallabies to Britain in 1908-09, but declined the offer and preferred to win a place as a player. This he did, only to suffer back problems on the voyage across, be taken ill and, at Naples, put on a ship returning to Australia. It was felt his back probably would not stand up to the creeping cold of a British winter.
Murnin finally accepted the inevitable and, when he returned home, retired from rugby. Thus one of Australia’s better players of his day never appeared in a Test and played far fewer matches for his country than his abilities warranted. He led his club with distinction through one of its finest eras and was universally respected around the rugby game, as witnessed by the approach over the managerial position while still an active player. He had long been interested in military affairs and was one of a small group to serve in three conflicts. He had served in the Boer War as a member of the Colonial Light Horse, been to the Boxer Rebellion in China as a midshipman and later fought again in World War I.
Murnin died while still a young man, being only 38 when he passed away on Anzac Day, 1921.
A product of Shore School and Sydney Church of England Grammar School, Murnin played in four non-Test matches but never made it to Test level.
Peter Sharpham wrote in The First Wallabies: “He was a considerable loss, as he was a tall and talented rampaging breakaway…. A quiet and unassuming man his death certificate indicates that he died in Bombala, New South Wales, aged only thirty-eight. Whether the illness which he sustained on the Omrah contributed to his early demise is uncertain.Eddie Kann wrote in Easts Rugby Story: “A Sydney tea merchant, Murnin captained Easts in some of the club’s best seasons. Tall and slight but extremely wiry in build, he was a most persistent player.”