John George Fuller

PositionFlanker
Date Of Birth17 May 1920
Place Of BirthSydney
SchoolCranbrook School
ProvinceNSW
Died1 December 2003
Service NumberNX34875

Biography

There have been selection mysteries down the years and most major touring teams have had their share. The non-selection of Cyril Towers for the 1933 South African tour was the most ridiculous, as he was clearly the best centre in Australia and the most knowledgeable player of his time, but his non-selection was a prerequisite for Dr Wally Matthews accepting the manager's position. He felt Towers was too strong a personality and would undermine his authority. In the present litigious world Towers could possibly have sued, with just cause. Equally amazing was the non-selection of Test captain Dick Tooth, flanker Keith Cross and halfback Cyril Burke for the disastrous 1957-58 tour.

In 1947 the choice of John Fuller over Roger Cornforth lacked any semblance of logic or common sense. Fuller had not played any matches against the touring 1947 All Blacks, despite two Tests, two NSW matches and a State second XV all being on the schedule. Fuller was not deemed good enough to make any of these teams while Cornforth, who played both New South Wales matches and the first Test, was a resounding success. An excellent swimmer and water polo player at national level, Cornforth was an enormous man who used his weight to make his presence felt, and he was fast as well.

While both were flankers, Fuller had been a prop with Sydney University before the war. Both had been prisoners of war and each man had been reduced to a walking skeleton by the privations he had suffered and, to the credit of each man, they recovered their health and turned out again. In each case it was a triumph of spirit. In Thomas Hickie's A Sense of Union: A History of the Sydney University Club there is a photograph of a rugby jersey with the following note: "The 1939 First XV premiership jumper was worn by John George Fuller. During the Second World War he wore the jumper as a pyjama top while surviving for three and a half years as a prisoner of war at Changi in Singapore and Kobe and Ikuno in Japan. After recuperating for six months from late 1945, Fuller returned to University, enrolling in Economics at night and playing for the club."

He had been a candidate for the 1939-40 British tour but was not selected and received Blues in 1939, 1940, 1946 and 1947. The simple fact, however, is that Cornforth was clearly the better player and obviously had been throughout the season, not least in the eyes of the State and national selectors right up to the moment of the final selection. There were rumours of political pressure being brought to bear by Fuller's (presumed) influential friends, as conspiracy theorists felt Fuller's Cranbrook background was set against Cornforth's rather more modest North Sydney Boys' High School education, although Cranbrook has only produced two other Wallabies – Tony Abrahams and Paul Darveniza.

The 27-year-old Fuller played only seven of 30 matches in Britain, one of five in France and three of six in Canada and the USA on the way home. The only players to appear less often were Mick Cremin (nine matches) and a trio who were all injured for much of the tour, Charlie Eastes (eight matches), Arch Winning (eight) and Bill McLean (six).

Perhaps due to the unbelievable treatment he had received during the war and the frustrations on tour, Fuller remained somewhat aloof from his team-mates. This may not have all been of his own choosing, as success would have helped him bond with the team. Instead he operated outside the main body of the team, spending most of his time dealing with correspondence and arranging business meetings. He tended to be something of a loner and seemed to operate without any particular mates. However, the concentration camp experiences probably had a lot to do with his rather insular nature.

Early on, Fuller's tackling was questioned and while the author was not privy to his response, rumour within the team had it that the response was that he did not like tackling. What is for certain is that after that particular meeting with the senior players, Fuller only received scattered matches on tour.

Although he may not have fitted in as player, his team-mates understood that he had not chosen himself for the tour and it was quickly appreciated that he never complained about his lot. He did not get bitter, and rather than spend too much time in the bars he was more likely to retire to his room and type another letter or two.

At first he did not attend the 1947-48 team's reunions, as he perhaps felt somewhat out of place and believed (mistakenly) that the team felt some antagonism towards him. When he later began attending reunions, he was welcomed by all and immediately fitted into the group. As on every team there were players who succeeded and others who had a lean time of it, but the group remained bonded by the fact they were the 30 men who made up this party.

Although he played no Tests, Fuller played 11 tour matches on the 1947-48 tour and represented NSW three times in 1946-47. Among his teammates on the 1939 Sydney University team that won the premiership were Jika Travers, who later became a Rhodes Scholar and captained England; Phil Hardcastle, a post-war Wallaby captain, and Eric and Frank Hutchinson, who had already represented Australia in the 1930s and who were both killed in the war.

John George Fuller