Frank Leonard "Banger" Row
- 11Wallaby Number
Australia’s Test history began when another entrepreneurial team arrived from Great Britain, led by the Rev. Mathew Mullineux. He was to be immortalised by ‘Banjo’ Paterson in his bush ballad, “The Reverend Mullineaux”: I’d reckon his weight at eight-stun-eight, And his height at five-foot-two, With a face as plain as an eight-day clock, And a walk as brisk as a bantam cock- Game as a bantam, too. Hard and wiry and full of steam, That’s the boss of the English Team, Reverend Mullineaux. The first match of the Great Britain tour was against Goulburn, and the second was against a strong New South Wales team.
Frank (‘Banger’) Row was the fullback in that game for the home side and lived up to his nickname with many telling tackles. He appeared as centre for Metropolis in the third encounter, and converted the only try by his team. History was made on June 24 1899 when Australia’s first Test was played and Frank Row became Australia’s first Test captain. Only five of the team were from Queensland. Australia played in sky blue jerseys with the Australian coat of arms. The team for Australia’s first – ever Test at the SCG on 24 June 1899 was Bob McCowan, Charlie White, Frank Row (capt.), Lonnie Spragg, Poley Evans, Peter Ward, Austin Gralton, Alf Colton, Charlie Ellis, Alexander Kelly, Walter Davis, Hyam Marks, Patrick Carew, James Carson and Bill Tanner. Born on January 28 1877 in Sydney, Row was to die on that very day in 1950, thus being 73 years of age.
His father was William Row, an Englishman who came to Queensland to farm in 1864. The family moved to Sydney, and Row was to play for Manly Federals, Wallaroos, North Sydney. He transferred to New Zealand in the early 1900s, and captained Wellington Province in 1902. His brother Norman, a flanker, was to play six Tests for Australia. Jack Pollard has this to say about the moustachioed ‘Banger’ Row in Australian Rugby: “Frank Row enjoyed telling how he, and his brother Norman, took their father to watch his first rugby match. They looked up from the field at halftime and were surprised to see his seat empty. When they arrived home after the game they asked him why he had left early and their father said: ‘Never seen such a lot of ruffians.’” Things were markedly different in those far-off days. When the team initially got together they elected the captain.
Thus Frank Row, Queensland-born but a New South Wales resident, became Australia’s first Test captain. Australia won this first Test by 13 points to 3, Row inspiring his team with a brilliant display. The twelfth match of the tour marked the second Test at Bowen Park Exhibition Ground, Queensland. In those days players were invited to play, and Sydney experts were outraged when the skipper was not one of those asked. It appeared to be a cost-saving exercise, and only six players were nominated from the southern state. Great Britain emerged victorious in the second Test by 11 to 0.
Frank Row went up against the British once more in their fifteenth match, against New South Wales. He also fronted up for Metropolis in the following match. The seventeenth match was the third Test, once more at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and again Row was elected captain. His defence in the game was once again solid, and he marked one of the game’s immortals, the Welshman, Gwyn Nicholls. Britain won narrowly 11 to 10. Row also captained the final Test in Sydney, won convincingly by Britain by 13 to 0. Thus Row became part of Australia’s rugby history, being its first Test captain, and being at the helm in three of the four Tests.