Michael Augustine Jenkinson
In an age when NSW Country critics claimed the boys in the bush could not get a go from the Australian selectors, Mick Jenkinson proved them wrong. Unable to nail down a first-grade spot with Eastern Suburbs in Sydney, Jenkinson, a livewire hooker, won a Wallaby trip to Africa after being moved by his employer to Newcastle.
Born on 28 August 1940 in Sydney, the young Michael Jenkinson attended Marcellin College at Randwick, playing rugby league at school on Thursdays and rugby for Vaucluse Juniors on Saturdays. After leaving school, he became a cadet journalist. He joined Easts as a 17-year-old and played his initial season in fourth grade. He went on to make his first grade debut in 1960, playing in every game, and was chosen in a Sydney under-23 side. However, he alternated between the grades over the next two seasons before accepting a transfer in late 1962 to Newcastle as the Sydney Sun's northern correspondent.
Up in the steel city, he joined the powerful Wanderers club, which also had the services of a youthful Wallaby five-eighth, Phil Hawthorne. In a meteoric rise, Jenkinson was welcomed into the Newcastle side and then made the Country Seconds behind Andy Laurie, who had toured New Zealand the year before as number two hooker to Peter Johnson.
The Sydney versus Country matches were used as trials for the Wallaby tour of South Africa later in the year. Playing against Jenkinson for Sydney Seconds was Manly’s Don McDeed. The opposing hookers clashed during the game and when the teams for the final trial matches were named, Jenkinson was in The Rest for the main trial, where he would be pitted against the wily Johnson. Queensland's hooker Bill Gunn and Laurie were opposed in the early trial. To some, it looked as if the national selectors were using the clash between Gunn and Laurie to determine the number two hooker for the tour, since both appeared robust types who seemed suited to stand up to the tough, vigorous South African front rows. Others felt that Jenkinson was a genuine chance after his effort against McDeed. In the upshot, Jenkinson, who proved a quick striker for the ball and shared the tighthead count with Johnson, was named in the Wallaby touring team to cap off a remarkable couple of months. At the time, Jenkinson was very light for an international hooker, weighing 168lbs (76kg) and standing 5ft 10ins (178cm).
In South Africa, where hookers generally shoved as part of an eight-man scrum, it was felt that Jenkinson’s lack of weight would be a handicap. However, it was never the plan of the Wallabies to commit to a shoving duel in the scrum. On the home team’s ball to the scrum, the Wallabies would pack a holding scrum and, on their ball, they would rely on a lightning strike, and Jenkinson was adept in this aspect of hooking.
Making his debut for Australia against North Eastern Districts at Krugersdorp, Jenkinson found it hard going in a seven-man pack after Peter Crittle injured his back early on and played out the match as an extra fullback. The Wallabies just scraped home 9-8.
Jenkinson's second tour match came in Kitwe (in modern Zambia) where he took a tighthead from Springbok Ronnie Hill which led to a try at a critical time to give the Wallabies a 14-11 lead. This proved a turning point in the game with the tourists going on to win. Jenkinson then played in the Rhodesia game in Salisbury and against South Western Districts where he won the tighthead count 9-6. However, the experienced Johnson who had forged an uncanny combination with Ken Catchpole, was chosen for the internationals.
In his next outing, Jenkinson was matched with the Junior Springbok hooker, Brian Harrison, who was also a lightly built forward and a quick striker. However, Jenkinson suffered a broken shin (not diagnosed until years later) which hampered him in the second half of the 6-3 win over Border. He missed the next four fixtures, before returning for a hard-fought 10-3 win over Eastern Province, followed by a free-flowing 28-11 victory over Central Universities.
Jenkinson's last appearance was against Orange Free State at Bloemfontein where the tourists were outplayed in the second half after being reduced to seven forwards. Jenkinson played only eight of the 24 tour matches. A.C. Parker in his review of the tour wrote of Jenkinson: 'A fast striker and, unlike Johnson, never troubled the referees ... Put up a good performance in his ... match against Springbok Ronnie Hill, and though often beaten on the tighthead count was on the losing side only once in eight games. A cheerful sort and a good team man.'
Three of the tight-head losses referred to by Parker came after the Wallabies had been reduced by injury to seven-man scrums.
Jenkinson played for the Rest against Australia in 1964 but never made another Wallaby side. He was probably the only player of his era to feature in a winning NSW Country team against Sydney (1967) and a winning Sydney team against NSW Country (1973). After retiring from rugby he ghost wrote Australia's first successful book on the sport, The Game They Play in Heaven for Steve Finnane in 1978. He wrote Until the Final Whistle, a sporting biography of Phil Hawthorne in 1996 and A Dangerous Breed. The Excellent African Adventures of the 1963 Wallabies in 2018. Jenkinson also wrote several books on non-rugby topics.