John Brook O'Donnell

  • 3Caps
  • 249Wallaby Number
PositionFront row forward
Date Of Birth6 January 1902
Place Of BirthSydney
SchoolMarist Brothers' College, Darlinghurst
Debut ClubRandwick
Other ClubsWestern Suburbs (Sydney)
ProvinceNSW
Died1 January 1990
Debut Test Match1928 Wallabies v New Zealand, 1st Test Wellington
Final Test Match1928 Wallabies v New Zealand Maori, Wellington

Biography

‘Jack’ O’Donnell was a front row forward who became the first in a long line of Randwick hookers to play representative rugby. O’Donnell also holds the rare distinction of being the Wallaby son of an All Black. Jack’s father James was an Irish immigrant to New Zealand who went on to become All Black #9. James, a fast flanker, was one of 19 players chosen for the first tour by a New Zealand team to New South Wales in 1884. On his way to join the rest of the team in Wellington James was arrested by the bailiff of the Residents’ Magistrate’s Court in Invercargill on a fugitive warrant issued after local Otago tradesmen feared O’Donnell would not return from the tour and settle outstanding debts.

None of the accusers were present when O’Donnell fronted the Magistrate and as such he ‘slipped through the fingers of his creditors’ to regain his liberty. He played seven matches and, some may say not surprisingly, settled in Australia at the end of the tour. James played seven matches for New South Wales including one appearance against Great Britain in 1888. Born in 1902, ‘Jack’ actually switched from rugby league, where he had played three first grade games with Eastern Suburbs in 1923, to join the newly formed Randwick club. Described as a ‘classy’ hooker, O’Donnell played his first representative rugby when selected as one of six Metropolitan players for The Rest against the returned Waratahs in 1928.

That same year he was then chosen, alongside University’s Jim Phipps, as one of the two hookers for the New South Wales tour to New Zealand. O’Donnell appeared in seven of the 10 matches including the first ‘Test’ in Wellington. Tour manager, Charles Morgan, who had refereed two Tests against New Zealand in 1907 and 1910 and was a Life Member of the NSWRU, ordered two gallons of milk for the boys to drink after that match. When halfback Syd Malcolm returned to the hotel he strolled into the bathroom to find ‘Wild Bill’ Cerutti and O'Donnell taking a bath in the milk. Malcolm remonstrated with the two forwards however they quite innocently thought that it was some kind of milk-based treatment for bruises.

When Malcolm explained to them that the milk was for drinking purposes the pair removed themselves from the bath and re-filled the churn. Malcolm later said that he did not see anyone drinking milk after the bathing episode. Although O’Donnell did not know it at the time that match was his official Test debut after an ARU decision in 1994 elevated the remaining 34 New South Wales matches played against international opposition in the 1920-28 period to Test status (the five 1927/28 Waratahs’ internationals were given Test status in 1986). The following season he lost his position to Queensland’s Eddie Bonis who went on to start every Australian international for the next eight years. O’Donnell broke his leg in the fourth last round of the 1930 premiership against Norths however Randwick still went on to secure that year’s premiership. He moved to Western Suburbs in 1932 and was then linked to the new Parramatta club ahead of their admission in 1934. Jack O’Donnell played three Tests for Australia in a one-year international career.

Highlights

1928

O’Donnell won his first Test cap at hooker, propped by ‘Wild Bill’ Cerutti and Ian Comrie-Thomson in the 1st Test, 12-15 defeat to New Zealand at Athletic Park. Jim Phipps started in the second Test, played just three four days after the first, however O’Donnell returned for the 11-8, 3rd Test win at Lancaster Park and the 8-9 loss to the Maori in Palmerston North.
John Brook O'Donnell