John Robert Ross
John Ross, a fast and determined No.8 turned scavenging flanker, was an unheralded member of the 1990 Wallaby side to New Zealand where victory in the final Test set the side on its withering run to claim the 1991 Webb Ellis Cup. Strong over the ball and with a legendary work-rate, Ross possessed an innate ability to secure possession in open play. He almost always played above his weight and had the ability to both harass and harangue inside backs to the point of distraction.
Born in Queanbeyan but educated in the ACT, Ross did not play rugby while at school. He played his first football in the U7s for the Canberra Royals juniors (Falcons), a club to whom he remained loyal for more than two decades.
In 1987, Ross earned selection for the ACT U21s, alongside Ricky Stuart and Matthew Pini, before he made his first grade debut for Royals, at No.8, in the club’s 25-3 “wipeout” grand final victory over Daramalan. A year later, and with the press writing that he held “justifiable representative aspirations”, Ross was picked for the ACT’s Possibles vs. Probables trial, made the ACT ‘B’ side and later represented ACT U21s against NSW U21 in the curtain raiser to the senior New South Wales vs. England fixture. Ross's performance for the U21s was described as “incredibly brave” while one commentator said he “will be dead unlucky” to miss national selection. Ross went on to be named in the Australian U21s and “played tremendously” in their 24-21 victory over New Zealand. Ross completed his season in style when he won the Hird Trophy, awarded to the best and fairest ACT colt, and then picked up a second John I Dent Cup with Royals.
Ross made his first ACT senior squad in 1989, and shortly thereafter debuted against the Australian Institute of Sport, before he faced the sternest of tests in the territory’s 25-41 loss to the touring British Lions. Ross was then regarded as a ‘leading contender’ for the Wallaby tour of North America and France following injuries to Steve Tuynman (torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee) and Scott Gourley (broken thumb) however the selectors opted for David Wilson, Brendan Nasser, Sam Scott-Young, David Carter and Tim Gavin.
Ross then set off on an overseas adventure which saw him play both gridiron, for the Australian Kookaburras American football team, and rugby, for Peebles in Scotland. The six month sojourn forced Ross to miss the early representative trials of 1990 however that did not stop his name being included in a Wallaby World Cup squad more than 18 months out from the tournament final. He then “played above” Nasser, Wilson, Jeff Miller and Julian Gardner in ACT’s 19-27 loss to Queensland and had a storming game in the ACT’s tight 21-22 defeat to France before he was named, as one of three Royals, for the Wallaby tour to New Zealand. Ross then took leave without pay from his electrician job to ensure he could make the trip.
Coach Bob Dwyer presented Ross with a wonderful opportunity to “press his claims” for a Test spot when he selected the ACT flanker for the opening tour match against Waikato. Unfortunately, the Wallabies “received a “battering” from “a rampant Waikato pack”, where, in heavy conditions, the home team’s forwards “tore the heart out of the Australians" on their way to a 21-10 victory. Fate then dealt Ross’ Test aspirations a far more definitive blow when Nasser suffered a depressed fracture of the left cheekbone in the very next match, the 10-16 loss to Auckland. As a consequence Dwyer made a desperate plea to Miller, who had declared himself unavailable for the tour due to business commitments, to join the Wallabies and provide the side with a second genuine open-side flanker. Miller remained at home before Dwyer surprised all and sundry by selecting Steve Tuynman and Willie Ofahengaue for the opening Test in Christchurch. Nasser’s return saw him preferred to Tuynman at Eden Park before Scott-Young earned a late call-up in Wellington to replace an injured Nasser.
Despite having narrowly missed out on a Test cap Ross, according to Dwyer, “made dramatic improvements” on the tour and came away with the goal of developing his speed, strength and technical ability leading into the World Cup. Later that same year, Ross earned selection on the Emerging Wallabies tour to England and Europe and played “consistently well” only to then be a surprise omission from the revised World Cup squad despite seven back rowers being named.
In 1992, and seemingly stuck on the fringe of selection despite best on ground performances against NSW Country and New South Wales as well as a series of outstanding displays on the Kookaburra’s tour of New Zealand, Ross was chosen for a 1993 Australian training squad. Injuries soon conspired to interrupt both the 1994 and 1995 seasons before Ross was one of 17 Kookaburras to sign with the Brumbies for the first season of professional, Super 12 rugby. In 1996, Ross became Brumby #16 when he debuted off the bench against Transvaal.
Ross left Canberra for the University of Melbourne and later Harlequins. In 1998 he represented Victoria in their 13-42 loss to Scotland before a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament pre-empted his unofficial retirement. However, Ross was not lost to rugby as he embarked on a coaching career within Victoria, for Southern Districts in Sydney, with the Australian U20s, Easts (ACT) and the Brumbies.
Ross made his debut for Australia in the uncapped, 10-21 loss to Waikato in Hamilton. He played a further four matches on the tour: - vs. West Coast-Buller (W 62-0), vs. Hanan Shield Districts XV (W 34-0), vs. North Auckland (W 28-14), and vs. Taranaki (W 27-3)