James Thomas Ossian Stenmark
Jimmy Stenmark was another product from Saint Ignatius College, Riverview. As so often happens, brilliant players are sometimes held back or never achieve their goals because they have to follow in the footsteps of proven players who had that extra brilliance. Stenmark was one of those.
Tall for the time period at 6ft 3 in but thin and wiry at 13 stone 12 pounds, in some way he was too versatile for his own good. He could play in the second row, number eight or flanker, but he had some of the greatest players of at least the time period he had to contest against: Colin Windon, Arthur Buchan, Doug Keller, Graham Cooke and Joe Kraefft. Phil Hardcastle could not crack it at the Test level on the 1947-48 either, and he was a remarkable player.
The 1947-48 tour would be the only one he would make, but because of his versatility he could have had many more if he was available and was so inclined. Not only was he mobile and a fine jumper in the lineout, he was a goal-kicker as well. There were a lot of pluses about Jimmy Stenmark, who never once lost his keenness and motivation though he knew he might never make a Test.
He was the ultimate team man, and a fine gentleman, and a role model, as well. Stenmark played for Sydney University, and he decided to give it a try to get on the nine-month tour of the British Isles, France, Canada and the United States, the trip of a lifetime.
The 1947 All Blacks came to Australia to test the Wallaby aspirants, and Jim Stenmark came to the attention of the selectors when A NSW XV ( not the) was picked. He was one of the flankers, captained the team and kicked a penalty goal in a 17-26 loss. It was an impressive performance. Though it was his only game against the All Blacks the national selectors pencilled in his name. He had also played six games for NSW 1946-47.
So off he was on the ‘Orion’, five weeks at sea before a few weeks at Penzance getting ready for the first game. Though he was versatile, he was mainly considered a flanker, and he did not appear in the first match against Cornwall and Devon, as the captain Bill McLean and Col Windon occupied the two spots, and Arthur Buchan was the number eight. Those three might have made World XV’s at that time. It must have been quite dispiriting, but his first run was not until the sixth match, as a flanker against Combined Services at the so-called home of rugby, Twickenham. It was an Australian victory, 19 to 8, but it had its moment of sheer horror as the captain, Bill McLean, broke his leg, and would not play again. What it meant, however, was that more opportunities should open up for him to play.
He was at number eight in the next game against Northumberland and Durham, also won by Australia 49 to 0, the highest total ever scored by an Australian team in the British Isles to this point. Tom Goodman wrote; ”Jim Stenmark at lock, also did well. Stenmark, no doubt, will be given a chance as a ‘tight’ breakaway, in view of the injuries to the breakaway specialists.”
Stenmark was again at number eight against North of Scotland, Australia again winning 14 to 0. Jim kicked a conversion in the match. Against South of Scotland, he was a flanker with Col Windon, and it was another win, 15 to six. Goodman in The Sydney Morning Herald wrote: ”An extraordinary incident occurred in the first half when Jim Stenmark missed a penalty kick at goal ,and referee Allan allowed him a second kick, because a section of the crowd had shouted and clapped in an attempt to put Stenmark off his kick. The referee took the view that the home team was responsible for the crowd’s behaviour.”
Even with two chances, Jimmy did not make the kick. Next match was against Glasgow and Edinburgh, Australia winning 23 to 9. Then he was in against Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire, for a 15 to 0 victory, Goodman noting that “Jim Stenmark, in the breakaway position, did good work.”
Next up was Newport, Australia narrowly winning 6 to 4. This is the match in which the Australian ‘star’, Charlie Eastes, broke his wrist and did not appear again on tour. After seven straight matches, Jim was rested against Neath and Aberavon, but was back in for the most sensational match of the tour, against Llanelly at Stradey Park. It was a brawl from start to finish, with disgraceful scenes both on and off the field, and the ‘last minute Wallabies’ scored in the final minutes to win the match. Col Windon was ordered off the field in the melee, when it should have been Graham Cooke on the Australian side, and the whole pack of Llanelly.
Stenmark was in the following match, against London Counties at Twickenham, Australia just winning out by 20 to 8. He was then rested against Cambridge, but was a late inclusion against Hampshire and Sussex. It was a 14 to 5 win for the Wallabies. He was again rested against Oxford University, so he missed out on the two University games. He was back in against Leicestershire and East Midlands, won 17 to 11, and Goodman wrote: ”Winning, Stenmark, Shehadie and Keller strove to emulate Windon in backing-up.”
Despite his consistent performances, the Australian backrow in the Test against Scotland was Windon, Buchan and Keller. After the first Test, Stenmark was picked against a tough, experienced Lancashire and Cheshire team, and perhaps down psychologically after the Test win, Australia lost the match 8-9, due to two long-range tries by Cyril Holmes, a former Empire Games sprint champion. Australia missed three penalties in the game, Bob McMaster being the culprit. Jim Stenmark scored a try in the corner which almost won the game. Stenmark was then picked against Ulster at Belfast, Australia again winning narrowly by 14 to 10.
Stenmark missed out on the Ireland Test, but was picked for a hard Munster game, Australia again winning a cliffhanger by 6 to 5. Then he played against Swansea, Australia snatching a thrilling 11-8 victory. The Wallabies never gave in. Again, Stenmark did not get selected for the Welsh Test. The 27th match of the tour was against Pontypool, Blaensior and Talywain. In the game, the Wallabies winning 9 to 7, Stenmark suffered a minor dislocation of the right collar-bone, and it was thought he would not play again on tour. They reckoned without the resoluteness of Stenmark, as he was in the 31st match against South-West France at Bordeaux, won 8-7 by the Wallabies. He was also in the match against France ‘B’ for another close victory. He missed the next match, but played in the final French encounter against Ile de France. Australia won convincingly 30 to 12.
Stenmark did not play in the historic add-on game against the Barbarians at Cardiff Arms Park, but he was pretty close to the action as a Touch Judge. There were six matches in Canada and the United States on the way home, and Stenmark played in three of them.
Though he missed the first five matches on the tour, he played 23 games in all, the last when he returned to Australia. He also played six games for NSW 1946-48. Unheralded, his contribution known only by those who saw him on tour, he quite possibly was the best player never to play a Test for his country.
Knowing that he would not achieve Test status, Jim Stenmark would have gladly undertaken the tour, through the camaraderie and being part of the team. Jim Stenmark received ‘Blues’ from Sydney University in 1944, 1945 and 1947. One of his other claims to fame, extraordinarily, is that he once beat Walter Lindrum in billiards.