Francis Bede Smith
- 70Wallaby Number
A big, powerful outside centre, Bede Smith stood 6 feet tall (183cms) and weighed 12st 10lbs (81 kgs). He represented New South Wales from 1904 to 1908 and played for Australia in 1905, 1907 and 1908/9. As an outside centre, he ran with determination, served his supports with precision and defended strongly. Born on 29 August 1884 at Wellington, NSW, Smith grew up on a property in the Central West and attended school there at All Saints School, Bathurst, along with his cousin, Lancelot Machattie Smith, another crack three-quarter.
Both Smiths later attended The King’s School, Parramatta, where they starred in the First XV. Premiers in 1901, King’s earned the title of ‘Champion School’ in the following year, when the Firsts went through the season undefeated. In two years, they did not lose a match, although there were two draws – one in the last game of 1901 and one in the first match for 1902 against St Joseph’s College. In 1902, King’s did not concede a try and the only points scored against the team came from a penalty goal kicked by Newington College. Both Bede and Machattie were outstanding in the three-quarters in attack and defence. After leaving school, the Smiths returned to their respective properties and played club football. Bede Smith was selected in the Central Western team for the country carnival in 1903. In the following year, the big news was the visit of the British rugby team captained by David ‘Darkie’ Bedell-Sivright. Bede Smith played against the tourists for Western New South Wales in the second match of the tour, when Machattie Smith partnered him in the centers, where they marked Arthur O’Brien and Pat McEvedy, two New Zealanders studying medicine at Guy’s Hospital. Despite being on the beaten side, Bede Smith played strongly and he was selected in the New South Wales team that visited Queensland for the return interstate series.
These matches were played after the Test matches, which the British team won quite easily and showed up the poor quality of Australian three-quarter play. Late in the season, both Smiths played for New South Wales against Bedell-Sivright’s men who had just returned from the disastrous New Zealand leg of their tour. This time the visitors were unrecognisable from the gay cavaliers who had twice cut the New South Wales side to pieces. They appeared tired and jaded and just managed to beat New South Wales 5-0.
In the 1905 season, Bede Smith played resolutely for New South Wales in two matches in Brisbane, as well as partnering Percy Penman in the centres against the New Zealand team that popped across the Tasman for three matches prior to leaving for Britain. After the early interstate matches, the Australian selectors named the Australian team to tour New Zealand and included Machattie Smith. The national selection panel comprised Jim Henderson, James McMahon and Paddy Lane (NSW) and Bill Beattie, Poley Evans and Jack Walsh (Qld). Bede Smith was one of four notable omissions. The others were Bill Hirschberg, ‘Nimmo’ Walsh and Eddie Mandible. In the end, all four went to New Zealand. Smith and Hirschberg were added to the team when PF Ruthven and FK Lamb withdrew, the NSWRU sent Mandible on tour in the vain hope that the QRU would relent and allow him to play, while Walsh moved to New Zealand to play for Auckland. Ironically, Smith and Hirschberg figured in all seven tour games. Although the best New Zealand players were touring Britain, the Australians had a difficult tour.
Along with Machattie Smith, Bede made his Test debut at Dunedin against a virtual third string New Zealand that still managed to win 14-3. However, Smith’s valuable try against Auckland led to Australia’s 10-8 victory over the champion province. In his seven matches, Smith scored two tries and kicked a conversion for a total of eight points. In 1906, Bede Smith partnered Dally Messenger in the centres against Queensland in Brisbane, but ‘Boxer’ Russell replaced Smith for the remaining interstate matches. However, Russell and Messenger both transferred to the wings in 1907 and Bede Smith emerged as the leading outside centre in Australia. After playing strongly against Queensland that year, Smith partnered Russell in the centres in the opening match of New Zealand’s tour of Australia before a record crowd of 51,000 at the SCG. After a solid showing in that game and the succeeding game when New South Wales beat the All Blacks 14-0, Smith was named in the Australian side for the first Test three days later to partner Billy Dix in the centres. However, Queensland’s Phil Carmichael played nervously at fullback and he and Dix swapped places during the game.
The All Blacks won a lacklustre match 26-6, which prompted Australian selector James McMahon to criticise the inclusion of three Queenslanders because it weakened the team’s cohesion. Smith was retained for the second Test in Brisbane and the third in Sydney where McMahon got his way and the entire Australian XV came for New South Wales. The result was a five-all draw that appeared to vindicate McMahon’s judgment. With a big tour of Britain and North America in the offing in 1908, Bede Smith had to make a decision whether or not to make himself available for the tour that was being arranged by the NSWRU. Smith had announced he was unavailable for the tour, claiming he was unable to leave his grazing property in Wellington. However, Smith was highly regarded as the cornerstone of the Australian backline and he was persuaded to change his mind when the officials permitted his wife to accompany the tour.
Smith then played in the final interstate match and, when the Anglo/Welsh side arrived after its tour of New Zealand, he played in the two waterlogged matches staged on the SCG just prior to the touring team’s departure for England on the Omrah. In these matches, Smith was outstanding in attack and defence and he showed that he could be a force on the heavy grounds expected in England and Wales. Unfortunately for Smith, an ankle injury suffered early in the tour kept recurring to ruin his campaign. Smith started well with a try in the opening game against Devon and he figured in three of the first five matches before suffering an ankle injury that plagued him throughout the tour. He did manage to make Australia’s team for the Olympic challenge against the United Kingdom at Shepherd’s Bush, London and gained an Olympic Gold Medal. After a few weeks lay-off, he tried to come back too early against Cambridge University and aggravated the injury. However, Smith was in the frame for the Welsh Test after playing four consecutive matches but re-injured the ankle in the loss to Combined Midlands and East Midlands Counties ten days before the Welsh Test.
In the end, Smith missed the Welsh international and returned only for the match with Cardiff in which Albert Burge was sent off for kicking. This was the game before the England international and Ward Prentice grabbed Smith’s centre spot. In all, Smith played in just 12 of the games in England and Wales and was never the force expected when the team departed from Australia. After the North American section of the tour, he and his wife returned to their property at Wellington where Smith retired to concentrate on his grazing property. Bede Smith was a champion schoolboy footballer who established himself in 1907 as Australia’s best outside centre in five excellent performances against the magnificent All Blacks when he was only 23- years -of -age. In a relatively short career between 1904 and 1908, Smith played 18 times for New South Wales and figured in three Test matches. His early retirement compounded the loss to Australian rugby after the defection of several inside backs to rugby league. He died on 29 October 1954.