- 322Wallaby Number
Michael Clifford was a young fullback whose international rugby career came to an abrupt halt due to the outbreak of World War II. Born in Forbes and schooled at St. Stanislaus' College, Bathurst, Clifford played a couple of seasons of rugby league in the Forbes district for St. Laurence Juniors but was largely an unknown in Sydney when St. George selectors offered him a trial with their first grade side in 1936. Clifford was said to have remained ‘cool in every crisis and kicked remarkably well with either foot’ during the trials, so much so that the club's officials regarded him as a genuine ‘find’.
Just one year later he was selected on the basis of his ‘consistency’ and ‘all-round’ club form for his state debut, against Queensland. Clifford played well in both matches and made few mistakes however incumbent Wallaby fullback Ron Rankin was preferred for the both home Tests against the Springboks. In 1938 Clifford remained at the forefront of representative selection as he became the first St George player to score more than 100 points in a season since the club’s reinstatement ten years earlier however he required a touch of luck to attain national honours.
Rankin started the opening two Tests against New Zealand but then pulled a leg muscle at training and was forced to withdraw ahead of the third match. Clifford was added to the reserves list and then only received a start after out centre Max Carpenter withdrew with influenza. Despite only coming into the side at the eleventh hour Clifford ‘played grandly’. Sadly, seven Wallabies on the field in Clifford’s debut Test later lost their lives in the war. The following year he won selection on the Second Wallabies tour to the U.K. but no sooner had the team reached Britain than war was declared.
In August, 1940 Clifford enlisted in the R.A.A.F., attained the rank of Flight Sergeant, and was later sent to England where he became a pilot in the Spitfire Squadron of the R.A.F. He arrived home in August, 1942 after a year’s meritorious service abroad but just a few months later perished in a flight training accident on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Michael Clifford played one Test for Australia and will forever be Wallaby #322.
Clifford won his first Test cap at fullback in the 3rd Test, 6-14 loss to New Zealand at the S.C.G.