Frank William Hall O'Brien
- 310Wallaby Number
Frank O’Brien was a champion sportsman who overcame a horror leg injury to become the Gordon rugby club’s first Test capped Wallaby. A ‘wonderfully versatile athlete’, O’Brien achieved fame in every branch of athletics, rugby, cricket, hockey, swimming, beach sprinting and, to a lesser degree, boxing. O’Brien began his secondary education at North Sydney Boys’ High School where he was ‘the outstanding runner and rugby winger in the High Schools’. A fast bowler and hard-hitting batsman, he played three years (1926-28) in the 1st X1 as well as the same three years in the rugby 1st XV.
He also represented the Combined High Schools' 1st XV three times (1926-28). O’Brien transferred to Sydney Grammar and played in the undefeated 1st XV premiership side of 1929 and the school’s 1st XI. That same year he won the first of his five New South Wales’ pentathlon titles (1929-32, 1934-35). During his school years O’Brien was also a member of the Gordon side that won Metropolitan rugby’s reserve grade premiership. After graduation (1930-32) he played first grade hockey as inside-left for Gordon and was the team’s leading goal-scorer each season.
In 1932 he won the Australian men’s 440 yards title in 49.8 seconds to outlast George Golding the bronze medal winner in that event at the 1930 Empire Games and the man who went on to place sixth in the final at that year’s Los Angeles Olympic Games. Unfortunately late that year, and at the pinnacle of his career, O’Brien underwent a major operation for a burst / torn muscle sheath between the knee and the thigh of his right leg. The surgery left him with a permanent horseshoe-shaped scar over 18 inches long and one that required 32 stitches to close. Despite this significant setback he recovered and continued to excel at every sporting discipline.
In 1933 he captained Roseville rugby’s Burke Cup team to the divisional premiership and he joined Dee Why Surf Life Saving Club, easily gained a place in their beach relay team, and helped them to victory in the Australian Beach Relay Championship. In 1934 O’Brien was recommended by the Amateur Athletic Association as one of nine athletes for inclusion in Australia’s Empire Games team and the next year he won his sole state decathlon championship. Also in 1935 O’Brien joined Northern Suburbs and was a member of the first grade side that won the premiership.
He returned to Gordon for the club’s maiden top grade season in 1936 and later that year made his debut for the Waratahs in the most emphatic fashion with seven tries in the first four matches. In 1937 O’Brien scored two of New South Wales five tries in their emphatic 17-6 upset defeat of a South African team that at the time was regarded as the strongest to ever leave its shores. Nonetheless Victoria’s Ru Dorr was chosen for the first of the two Tests, both of which were played in Sydney. Dorr was set to play the second match but late in Friday’s final training run he slipped and sprained his right ankle.
As a result O’Brien was called in for a Test debut that he celebrated with a try as Australia, with just 14 men, made a dramatic comeback before losing 17-26. In 1939 O’Brien played for NSW against a Combined XV in the curtain raiser to the main Second Wallabies’ trial (Australia XV v. The Rest) however Max Carpenter, Vaux Nicholson, Basil Porter and Kelaher won the wing three-quarter spots for the tour. O’Brien enlisted in the Australia Military Force in early 1939 but managed to play a final season of club rugby for Gordon.
O’Brien won his first Test cap on the right wing in the 2nd Test, 17-26 loss to South Africa at the S.C.G. In that match he became the 27th Wallaby to score a try on debut.
He picked up his second and final cap, again on the right wing, in the 3rd Test, 6-14 loss to New Zealand in Sydney.