James Patrick Flynn
- 139Wallaby Number
Jimmy Flynn was a teenage phenomenon. He learned his rugby at St Joseph’s Christian Brothers School in Brisbane, one of the great nurseries for the sport in Australia, similar to its counterpart in NSW, and played and captained Brothers’ Rugby Club. Only Randwick has produced more rugby internationals than Brothers. His was an instantly recognisable talent, and he was selected to play for his State one day before his 18th birthday, which is a superb achievement, accomplished by but a few. A halfback, he showed his versatility by also playing in the centre at the top level. He would also become to this point in our history Australia’s youngest-ever captain, at 20 years and seven months. The pity is, he was a mere 20 years of age when the First World War broke out, and therefore was unable to play during what one would conjecture would be his finest years.
Flynn was selected at 17 years of age to play for Queensland, his home State. Some of the players with him on that occasion were Herb McCabe and Lou Meibusch, two outstanding wingers, ‘Copper’ Kent, Allen (‘Butcher’) Oxlade, Billy Richards and Pat Murphy. In their first match against NSW, at the Exhibition Ground, Queensland defeated the southerners in a thrilling match by 18-15. In the return match in Queensland, the ‘Reds’ repeated the dose, winning 23 to 8. This was a rare feat in not only these but succeeding years. Bob Willocks scored 11 points in the game, beating Lonnie Spragg’s record set ten years previously. His record, in turn, would stand for 20 years. Oxlade was the captain in these glorious victories. Austin Gralton, a famous Queensland halfback, was the coach. It was Queensland’s first dual home victories since 1901.
The ‘Blues’ were thirsting for revenge, and in terrible conditions eked out a 12-3 victory in Sydney. The second encounter acted as a selection trial for the 1912 Australian tour of Canada and the USA. With the score 6-4 in favour of NSW, Oxlade was seriously injured. This would turn out to be his 28th and last game for his State. The Queensland coach, Austin Gralton, requested a replacement, which was the practice of the day, but the NSW captain refused, contrary to the spirit of the time. NSW then ran away with the match by 29 to 4. The selectors chose Tom Richards, a Queenslander then residing in Sydney, Bob Willocks, Lou Meibusch, Jimmy Flynn and Peter Cunningham, all from Queensland, for this overseas tour. Willocks withdrew, thus vacating his place in rugby history, Bill Murphy being added. Flynn was still 18 years of age as he went on the tour, as was Lou Meibusch.
The 1912 tour was more of a continuous party than a serious series of games, the team being astonished at the level of social activity in Canada and the United States. Bob Adamson, on his return to Australia said that the team hardly slept and this appears to have been the case. A good time was certainly had by all, but only 11 victories out of 16 games came the way of the Australians. The captain was Ward Prentice and the manager Dr. Otto Bohrsmann. Fortunately Australia won the sole Test by 12 to 8, coming from behind to eke out a sensational victory by 12 to 8. Jimmy Flynn was not selected for the Test. ‘Bobs’, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, said: “If ever a team looked to be hopelessly outclassed the Waratahs [sic] did yesterday in the first half and for twenty minutes’ play after the interval.”
Flynn would play ten games on the tour, against the Barbarians, Olympic Club, University of California (3), St. Mary's, University of Nevada, Santa Clara College, Vancouver and British Columbia. It would not have been designated as a successful tour by Jimmy on the field, as in a rare instance in Australian rugby he was ordered off the field by the referee for abusing him in the match against a Combined Vancouver-Victoria team. It was doubtless frustration on his part, but there can be no excuse over what happened. Two forwards were sent off on the 1908 tour, so Flynn has the questionable but certainly historic distinction of being the first back. Jimmy Flynn came into his own in 1913 and 1914. Though still 19 years of age, he first of all went up against a powerful NZ Maori team. There were 10,000 at the game, and the ‘Reds’ won decisively, by 19 to 9.
In the return encounter in the middle of the week, the Maori came out on top by 11-0. Queensland went up next against a powerful NSW team, but Flynn was unable to play through a smallpox vaccination that floored quite a few on the team. Queensland, led by Bob Willocks, clawed its way to a 13-3 victory. Willocks, a mighty player and captain, was unable to travel south and, in fact, this would prove to be his last game for the State. Jimmy Flynn, despite his age, was appointed captain for the southern tour. Queensland lost the opening encounter by 6-26. The return fixture at Sydney University Oval was later declared by Jimmy Flynn as his most exciting game ever.
NSW was in the lead by 21 to 17 with time nearly gone. Norman Roe wrote about it in Maroon: “With the result depending on his effort, Flynn took the kick at goal. The ball hit the crossbar, bounced up, fell back behind the bar, the referee signalled a goal, the full time bell rang and Queensland had won, 22-21.” “This kick has passed into folk lore. It is said that after it struck the bar the ball deflated, leading to the legend that Queensland won with a burst ball! “Jimmy Flynn recalled years later: ‘My heart nearly stopped while that ball seemed to hang there before it came down on the far side of the bar. To me it seemed like half an hour.’ “Apart from the decisive and dramatic goal kick his contribution to this success was considerable, as he converted two tries, and kicked a penalty goal and a goal from a mark.” In 1914 Flynn played four games against the All Blacks in 1914, two for Queensland, in which he was the captain, and two Tests for Australia. It was in the match on August 1, 1914, that he was elevated to the captaincy of his country, thus became Australia’s youngest-ever captain.
He was invited to play in the third Test in Sydney, but had to decline. The First World War interrupted this precocious player’s career, and one can only wonder as to the heights he might otherwise have reached in the game. He appeared in two games for Australia against the brilliant AIF team in 1919. These games are not counted as Tests, but there certainly is an argument that they should be. Flynn’s contribution to rugby did not end with his playing career. Rugby Union went into demise in Queensland from 1919 to 1929, but he played a big role in its revival in the northern State. He became both a Queensland and Australian selector, the latter in 1929 and 1930. He was on the selection panel which picked the Australian teams which won all three Tests against the 1929 All Blacks and then beat the British Lions. Jimmy Flynn’s record as the youngest-ever captain of Australia will in all probability never be breached. As for his career, one wonders what might have been if the War had not interrupted such a phenomenal talent.