- 65Wallaby Number
Jimmy Clarken was a robust, New Zealand-born forward who was superbly fit and played top-class rugby until the age of 43. He was the second oldest Test player when he played in the front row against New Zealand in 1910 at the age of 37. Tony Miller was the oldest at 38. Later he played for the AIF after World War 1 at the age of 43. Clarken came to Australia as a teenager and joined the Glebe Club, which won the Sydney district district premiership in 1900 (all three grades). He made the first of his 24 appearances for NSW against Queensland in 1904. His speed around the paddock and great ball skills saw him selected in the Australian team in the back-row for the Test against New Zealand in 1905, which New Zealand won 14 to 3. He played three more Tests in 1910, again against New Zealand, as a prop.
He toured North America with the Australian side led by Ward Prentice in 1912 but missed out playing the Test against the USA at Berkeley, California, which Australia won 12 to 8. A month before the tour Clarken and Harold Baker, another Australian rugby international, brought eight surfers ashore at Maroubra Beach in one of Australia’s most famous mass rescues. The truth about his age did not surface until he joined the AIF team after World War 1. He persuaded the selectors to play him as hooker in the crucial King’s Cup match against the unbeaten NZ Forces that fielded six All Blacks. Australia won 6 to 5. The rumour has it that he said: “I know how to beat the New Zealanders!” In those days New Zealand was persisting with a two-man frontrow. His tactic was to stick his head in between them and secure the loose head prop for the AIF no matter which side the ball was put in. He toured with the AIF team in Australia but was omitted from playing against the Australian team. Clarken played a club record of 140 games for Glebe and ended with 11 games for Randwick. He then ran a car-hire business in the Randwick area.
The author played for Randwick 1945 to 1948 , and Jimmy Clarken would invariably come down each Saturday to watch the games. He was very popular with the players. He was quite a remarkable character. Like Bill Cerutti many years later, it was as if the game, and the camaraderie, were made just for him. Clarken first appeared in representative rugby in 1904 for NSW against the visiting Great Britain side. The Blues were demolished by a strong New Zealand side, going down 0 to 27. The Sydney Morning Herald observed: “The hill-dwellers were paralysed with the neatness and quickness with which the Britishers handled the ball. The catching was so clean and sure and attack so emphatic that NSW held its breath in surprise.” Despite the one-sided nature of the onslaught, Clarken held his position for the return match with NSW a week later, but again the Blues were manhandled by 6 to 29. The Herald reporter concluded: “As on the previous Saturday, the British played rings round the home combination, albeit NSW played a much better game than at the former meeting.”
Four days later he played in the Metropolis team, which went down 6 to 19. On the Metropolis team that day was Arthur Hennessey, who would be the disciple of running rugby in the years to come. Somewhat surprisingly, Clarken did not make the first Test team, Australia losing 0 to 17. He was not selected for a Test, though he played for NSW in the final tour match, again lost, this time by 0 to 5. In 1905, when New Zealand toured, he did not make the NSW team that lost 0 to 19, but did play for the Metropolitan Union, which went down 3 to 22. He was then selected for NSW against them, it being 8-all. His performances that year were sufficient to guarantee a place in the 1905 Australian tour of New Zealand. It was a 23-man party ,and there were seven games, Clarken playing in six of them. He went up against Wellington-Wairarapa-Horowhenua (7-23), Marlborough –Nelson-Buller-West Coast (3-12), New Zealand at Dunedin (3-14), Manawatu-Hawkes Bay (7-5), Wanganui-Taranaki (18-11) and Auckland (10-8). So Jimmy Clarken played his first Test in New Zealand. His next appearance against a touring team was in 1908, when he was selected for the Metropolis team to play the Anglo-Welsh. He scored a try in the 13-16 loss. A phenomenon, he was back in the NSW team in 1910 against New Zealand (8-21), and he scored a try in the return match (11-17), and that year he was in the three Tests, lost 0-6, the second won 11 to 0, and the third lost 13 to 28.
The same year,1910, he played for NSW against the NZ Maori (11-0), and was also in the return match, also won, this time 27 to 13. As noted, he went on the Australian tour to North America in 1912. Somewhat farcical and undisciplined, it must rank as Australia’s worst-ever tour. Though he played seven tour games, he did not play in the single Test against the USA. He did not play against the 1913 NZ Maori team, and did not go on the 1913 NZ tour. He also did not play against the 1914 New Zealand team, the last team before the war. Amazingly Driver James Clarken appeared back in Australia with the AIF team. Though in his forties, he scored a try in the 36-11 victory over New England, and two tries against the North-West Union (52-6). He certainly was Mr Rugby in those far-off days, being much beloved, and he always had his boots at the ready.