Onslow William Humphreys
- 163Wallaby Number
Oney Humphreys was one of a number of talented players who came to the fore in Sydney rugby about the same time and who could play at either halfback or five-eighth with equal facility, although flyhalf was his preferred position. Older than several of these competitors, Humphreys (27 when he made his debut) was a durable player who was unusual for his time in that he was still playing good club rugby well into his 30s. A solidly-built man – he was the biggest of the 1921 touring team’s backs and heavier than many of his forwards – he could take the knocks as well as showing some deft touches.
He had a difficult introduction to big-time rugby, as his debut was against the very powerful 1920 All Blacks and he replaced Tom Lawton, already recognised as a star of the first magnitude, when that player withdrew from the third match of the series with injury. Although Humphreys made a sound debut the visitors were too good and took a comfortable win. Humphreys again turned out against them in the tour finale but it was a total disaster as far as the local men were concerned; after scoring in the opening minute the Metropolitan Union XV was taken apart and eventually suffered a humiliating, record-breaking 5-79 defeat. Many players had their cards marked that day as the team capitulated.
Humphreys played soundly for Metropolitan against the 1921 Springboks but did not return to the top side until the tour of New Zealand, which proved a highly successful venture. Although many opposing teams were not among the powers in New Zealand at the time, the Waratahs cut a swathe through their opposition by playing attractive, high-scoring rugby. Humphreys was probably expected to be one of the lesser lights – the fact he played two of the first six matches and Norm Mingay was given an extended run at flyhalf confirms this idea – but he did enough to win the fly half position in the one Test. This match, which was contested by an under-strength All Black side (it was in the middle of the South African series), saw the home side defeated by 17-0, which remains the All Blacks’ heaviest defeat in any home match to this day.
Humphreys had a good tour without becoming one of the stars – there were plenty of touring backs whose performances caught the eye through their try-scoring feats but the sound play by the inside backs had a great deal to do with the three-quarters’ success. On the back of his impressive tour, Humphreys was first choice for New South Wales’ next series, against New Zealand Maori at Sydney in 1922. The three matches were thrillers – the Maoris won the series 2-1 after staging a remarkable comeback in the third match – and the back play on both sides reached a high level. Again, Humphreys was a quiet achiever for his side but found himself omitted a month later when the full All Black side came calling, with newcomer Billy Sheehan getting the nod.
Humphreys fell back in the pecking order after that, not winning selection in the State teams, second XVs or Metropolitan teams that faced touring sides until 1925, when he was something of a surprise choice for the first match against the visiting New Zealanders. Played out of position at halfback, he had a tough day in a team whose forwards were done on the day and was dropped for the remainder of the series. He did not make the New Zealand tour and ended his top-level rugby with that appearance.