Matthew Coleman Burke
- 710Wallaby Number
Matthew Burke was one of the greatest rugby fullbacks of all-time. He was a superb athlete with devastating pace, bruising defence, a near-flawless kicking game and the safest of hands under the high ball. He was a role model for all and a great ambassador for rugby. Born in Sydney, Burke was educated at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill and played two years in the 1st XV. He toured the U.K. and Europe with the unbeaten 1990/91 Australian Schools team and upon his return joined the Eastwood Rugby Club where he played 1st Grade aged 18.
A year later he was called up for his maiden provincial match for New South Wales, against Fiji, and in 1993 made his Test debut against South Africa, in Sydney. Burke was a match-winner, time and time again. His kicking was confident, consistent, rhythmic and efficient and those traits were never more obvious than during the 1999 season. Burke kicked seven penalty goals and a conversion in the 28-7 world record defeat of New Zealand in Sydney. During the Rugby World Cup, and in windy, swirling conditions, he converted eight penalty goals in the semi-final against South Africa and a week later contributed 25 points (7PG, 2C) in the tournament final victory over France.
Not surprisingly Burke was tagged ‘the grim reaper in footy boots’ as he helped to methodically build victories three points at a time. Burke was also the first Wallaby to score a try in each match of a three Test Bledisloe Cup series and the first Wallaby to score 150 or more points in three seasons (1996, 1999 & 2001). Burke played in three Rugby World Cups, won and retained the Bledisloe Cup, won a Tri Nations title and played an integral role in the historic 2-1 series defeat of the British & Irish Lions in 2001. Matthew Burke played 81 Tests for Australia and scored 878 points in his 12-year international career.
Selected for the Australian Schools tour of the U.K. and Europe.
Represented Australian U21s against New Zealand U21s
Represented Australian U21s against New Zealand U21s. Represented Australia at the Sevens Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh. Burke won his first Test cap off the bench when he replaced Damian Smith on the left wing in the 3rd Test, 19-12 victory over South Africa in Sydney. He made his run-on XV debut at fullback in the 1st Test, 13-16 loss to France in Bordeaux.
Burke played four Tests, all at home, against Ireland (2) and Italy (2). He scored his first Test try in the 33-13 victory over Ireland in Brisbane.
Burke was not selected for the home series against Argentina due to a medial ligament injury but did win a place in the Wallaby squad for the Rugby World Cup. Matthew Pini played in the opening pool game loss to South Africa before Burke was brought in for the Canada match in Port Elizabeth. He held his spot for the next four internationals including the quarter-final loss to England, where it was written that he ‘never flinched under the relentless high balls fired at him’, and both Bledisloe Cup Tests.
Now firmly established as the first choice fullback, Burke started at No.15 in all 11 Tests. He scored 39 points (3T, 9C, 2PG) against Canada in Brisbane to set a new Australian single Test point scoring record and in doing so became the fifth Wallaby to score 100 Test points. Burke finished the year as Australia’s top point scorer with a single season all-time record of 189.
Burke earned two caps, against England in Sydney and New Zealand in Melbourne, but missed the French series due to a knee injury and the back end of the season after he suffered a groin injury.
He started the opening eight internationals of the year in the No.15 jersey but badly dislocated his right shoulder, as he scored the match winning try in the 3rd Test, 19-14 victory over New Zealand in Sydney, and missed the rest of the season. Burke scored a then world record 24 points (2T, 1C, 4PG) against New Zealand in the 2nd Test at the M.C.G. He also became the first Australian to score a try in each match of a three Test Bledisloe Cup series. Despite not playing in the final five Tests, Burke finished the season as Australia’s top point scorer with 115.
Burke missed the opening Test against Ireland in Brisbane but played in all remaining 12 matches, 10 as the starting fullback. He was selected to his second Rugby World Cup where he starred with 24 points in the semi-final against South Africa and 25 points in the victorious final against France. He became just the second Wallaby to score 500 Test points during that RWC final. Burke finished the season as Australia’s top point scorer with 155.
He did not play in any of the domestic Tests or during the Tri Nations tournament due to an ankle injury that required surgery. Burke returned for the end-of-season Spring Tour where he started each of the three internationals on the right wing.
Burke came off the bench in the 1st Test against the British & Irish Lions but then started at fullback in the remaining 10 matches of the season. He scored a world record 25 points against the Lions in the 2nd Test in Melbourne (broken by New Zealand’s Dan Carter in 2005 with 33). Burke finished the season as Australia’s top point scorer with 157.
He played all 10 Tests, nine as the run-on No.13 and one as the starting fullback. In the 2nd Test against New Zealand in Sydney Burke kicked the match-winning penalty from an acute angle, and after the full-time siren, to retain the Bledisloe Cup for a record fourth year. He finished the season as Australia’s top point scorer with 115.
Burke earned eight caps and was selected to his third Rugby World Cup. He played in the opening four pool games, three as the starting outside centre, but was controversially not selected in any of the three finals’ matches.
Burke won his final five caps, each as a replacement, and announced his retirement after the completion of the Tri Nations series.