Owen Lawman Bridle
- 270Wallaby Number
Owen Bridle was an amazingly versatile footballer who played Test rugby at flanker, centre and wing during a long and decorated career during the 1930s. Blessed with speed, anticipation and clever handling, Bridle was also, particularly for a forward of that era, a prolific try-scorer. Born and bred in England, Bridle migrated to Australia, settled in Melbourne and joined the St. Kilda RC. He first came to notice in 1930 when he was chosen for the Possibles v. Probables trial to represent Victoria against Great Britain.
The following year he was one of four VRU nominees to compete in The Rest v. Australia trial ahead of the Wallaby tour to New Zealand. The press of the day suggested he was ‘highly spoken of’ and a ‘real find’. Bridle’s performance for The Rest earned him a spot in the 25-man touring party. He played in five of the 10 matches, however Len Palfreyman and Jim Clark were preferred for the one-off Test against New Zealand in Auckland. What Bridle did not know at the time was that the third of those five matches, against the Maori at Palmerston North, was his Test debut following a decision by the ARU 63 years later to elevate this fixture to international status. Overall it was a disappointing tour however Bridle was one of the few Australians who returned home with his reputation enhanced.
In 1932 Bridle was the only Wallaby loose forward to play in all three Tests against New Zealand and he notched tries in the first and third matches of that series. A year later he played in 15 of the 23 tour matches in South Africa, including three of the five Tests, and finished as the team’s second highest try scorer with seven. In 1934 he was a member of the first Australia side to win a Bledisloe Cup series and two years later he returned to the Dominion where he started nine of the 10 matches and all three Tests. Having played 12 of the Wallabies last 15 Tests Bridle was a near certainty for the incoming tour of South Africa in 1937 however early in the year he trained with the Footscray AFL team and was automatically banned from the amateur game. An official of the VRU stated that a domestic rule of the union provided that a rugby player who assisted in the promotion of or took part in professional football was automatically disqualified as an amateur rugby player. Worse still, Bridle was not included in the final list of the Footscray team that effectively left him excluded from rugby and without an AFL side.
Finally, in May 1938, he was reinstated to play rugby. In 1939 Bridle was a surprise inclusion for the ‘Blues’ (Probables) in a trial for state selection where he gave an ‘inspire exhibition’ that virtually booked his ticket for Victoria and the Second Wallabies’ trials. Just as he was on the brink of a remarkable international comeback Bridle made himself unavailable for the tour for family and business-related reasons. Incredibly the now Dr. Bridle returned to first class rugby in 1947 when he showed for Victoria against South Australia and he continued to run around with Footscray in the local Melbourne competition until 1949. Owen Bridle played 12 Tests for Australia in a seven-year career.
Bridle won his first Test cap at flanker alongside Jim Clark and Tom Perrin in the 14-3 win over the Maori at Showgrounds Oval.
Max White, at No.8, joined Bridle and Clark in the back-row for the opening two Tests of the home series against New Zealand. Len Palfreyman and debutant ‘Weary’ Dunlop came into the side for the 3rd Test, 13-21 loss at the S.C.G.
Bridle was capped at flanker in each of the final three away Tests against South Africa. However in the second of those matches, the 4th Test at Port Elizabeth, Wallaby fly half Ron Biilmann fell awkwardly in an early tacke and suffered torn ankle ligaments to render him a virtual passenger for the entire match. As replacements were not allowed a significant realignment was required. Biilmann moved to flanker, Gordon Sturtridge to fly half, Doug McLean to outside centre and Bridle out to the right wing.
Bridle started at flanker in the two home Tests against New Zealand.
The Wallabies did not play a Test match in 1935.
He earned caps in each of the three internationals played on the tour of New Zealand, two against the All Blacks at flanker and one, at inside centre, against the Maori.