Hugh Lachlan Murray Buntine
- 201Wallaby Number
Murray Buntine was something of an old man by Sydney rugby standards of the early 1920s when he finally received a State call-up, at the age of 28 in 1923 for the New Zealand tour. He had been around grade rugby for a while with Western Suburbs, but New South Wales was not short of classy three-quarters in those days and Buntine was one of a group who had to bow to the superior skills of a group of real topnotchers. The unavailability of ten players for the tour, and the delay the six University players faced in joining the team after their exams, opened the door for Buntine. He had never been selected for any match against a touring team prior to that date and he was, by four years, the oldest man in a raw group of rookies who formed the Waratahs backline on that tour.
At 5ft 6in (1.68m) and 10st 8lb (67kg) he was also smaller than any of them except the halfbacks, something a few of the bigger New Zealand centres targeted. His debut was inauspicious and a little unfortunate, as he was facing the famous Nicholls brothers in the Wellington-Manawatu midfield and these two (Mark and Doc) formed one of the best midfield pairings to be found in New Zealand. Both were All Blacks and together they had an intuitive understanding of where backline weak points were to be found. That day they found plenty; New South Wales eventually lost by 16-29 but that scoreline closed up in the last few minutes when the locals took their foot off the pedal. Buntine and his centre partner Herb Trousdale were tagged with much of the responsibility for the defeat, perhaps unfairly as the forwards were well beaten on the day, and neither saw much action for a while.
Trousdale got one more game on tour while Buntine had to wait until the sixth match before he was given another start, although he had been called upon as a replacement for Norm Smith in the first Test. He played the last three midweekers and never looked likely to crack the Test lineup, even if the main team was getting thumped every Saturday. He returned home from the tour marked down as a player who had tried hard but who was not up to the demands of the highest form of the game. Buntine had one further match for the State, the second Test against the 1924 All Blacks. New South Wales had won the first, rather to the surprise of many of the critics, but the All Blacks now had their land legs back and were out for revenge.
If Buntine’s tour debut had been tough, his Test appearance was even more difficult, as the opposing five-eighth pairing was Mark Nicholls and Bert Cooke, to this day regarded as one of the greatest combinations ever to take the field for New Zealand. Cooke, Buntine’s direct opponent, played a blinder and the All Black backs scored six of the seven tries after making a series of holes in the midfield. Buntine tried to reply with a few bursts of his own but this All Black side was on the way to legendary status and many players with bigger reputations than Murray Buntine found them just too tough. He was dropped for the third Test – the All Blacks won this match even more decisively – and then faded from the State level as he wound his career down.