Herbert John Solomon
- 366Wallaby Number
John Solomon will forever be remembered for the part he played in one of the most extraordinary sporting gestures ever seen on a rugby pitch. The year was 1953 and the scene was the famous Newlands ground in Cape Town. Australia had just handed the Springboks their first defeat in 15 years with a remarkable come from behind, last minute 18-14 victory. After the final whistle was blown Chris Koch and Ernst Dinkelmann, two of the giant South African forwards, hoisted Solomon onto their shoulders and chaired him from the field as, so aptly put by Ian Diehm, ‘excited spectators stood in their thousands to applaud the triumphant Wallabies in a memorable tribute to Australia’s most thrilling victory.’
A highly intelligent and skilled utility back, Solomon was described by teammate Sir Nicholas Shehadie as ‘quick enough to play centre or wing, equipped with a skilful swerve and sharp acceleration when a gap appeared. Much admired for his astute captaincy.’
Born and raised in Sydney, Solomon was a star athlete during his days at The Scots College where he played two years in the 1st XV and, in his final year, represented the Combined GPS 1st XV. He burst onto the Sydney club rugby scene in 1948 and immediately won a spot in the University of Sydney first grade team. After five A grade matches Solomon, aged just 18, was chosen for New South Wales and ‘gave the greatest display of fly-half handling seen on the Exhibition Ground since before the war’ in the 17-9 defeat of Queensland.
The following year he toured New Zealand with the Australian Universities side and upon his return was called up for his Test debut against the Maori in Sydney. Solomon earned a spot on the subsequent tour to New Zealand where his great versatility came to the fore. Solomon played three different positions in his first five matches: five-eighth, fullback and centre and made the team for the final Test where Australia won their first ever Bledisloe Cup series on New Zealand soil.
Solomon was handed the captaincy for the 1952 home series against Fiji and the following year’s tour to South Africa before he retired in order to concentrate on his final year of medical exams. He made a triumphant return to rugby and the Wallabies in 1955 and led the side that won 10 of 13 games on the tour to New Zealand. A leader of men, Solomon made an outstanding contribution to Australian rugby.
John Solomon played 14 Tests for Australia, eight as captain, in a six-year international career. He was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame in 2016.
Solomon won his first Test cap on the left wing in the 3rd Test, 18-3 win over the New Zealand Maori at the S.C.G. Clarrie Davis and Ralph Garner were selected on the wings for the 1st Test of the away series to New Zealand however Davis pulled a leg muscle in the uncapped match against Southland a week prior to the second Test. Solomon came into the side as Davis’ replacement and scored his first Test try in the 16-9 victory at Eden Park.
Solomon started at fly half in combination with Cyril Burke in both home losses to the British Lions.
Solomon was capped at outside centre for the opening two Tests of the home series against New Zealand but was shifted to the wing for the final Test in Brisbane. Unfortunately he was a late withdrawal from the side due to a stomach disorder and Davis flew from Sydney on the morning of the match to take his spot on the left wing.
He led Australia from outside centre in all four Tests of the season against Fiji (2) and New Zealand (2) to become the 38th Wallaby to captain his country.
Solomon, as captain, started the opening two Tests of the South African series in the centre, outside of Jim Phipps. Unfortunately he was injured in the Cape Town victory and was later advised by a Bloemfontein specialist to have part of his knee cartilage removed. Solomon chose to delay the surgery until his return home and battled through the 3rd Test, again outside of Phipps, only to be controversially left out of the final international in order to find a spot for the goal-kicking Herb Barker. Upon his return from the Republic, Solomon announced his retirement from rugby so that he could concentrate on his medical exams. He also underwent an operation to remove the torn cartilage from his knee.
In his final season of international rugby Solomon led Australia from fly half in the 1st Test, 8-16 loss to New Zealand at Athletic Park. Sadly his tour ended 20 minutes into the uncapped match against South Canterbury-North Otago-Mid Canterbury when he was thrown heavily and had to leave the field with a dislocated shoulder. As a result Gordon Davis and then Dick Tooth played fly half in the final two Tests of the series.