Peter George Ward
- 14Wallaby Number
Peter ‘Ginger’ Ward was one of the first of the itinerant rugby players. His initials often appear in Australian and New Zealand records as P.M., but his birth certificate simply says Peter. Born in Invercargill, NZ, in 1876, he was an inside back. Australia and NZ this year used a two five-eighths formation, and Ward played equally well as a first or second five-eighth. After representing Southland in 1897 and 1898, and playing for the Brittania Club, he read that a British team was touring Australia in 1899, and set off for Australia in an endeavour to play against them. There had been no Test rugby in NZ to this point. He allied himself with Sydney’s Marrickville Club, and was selected for NSW in the first encounter with Mullineux’s British team.
Walter Davis was another Marrickville player to make the team, and one source describes him as a New Zealander, but this is not substantiated in The Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby. NSW was to lose the match by 3 to 4, but Ward was impressive and scored a try. As Howell, et al , described it in They Came To Conquer “ A ruck by the local forwards was well stopped by Mullineux, and then Nicholls saved ; but the latter’s kick in trying to send it into touch was a grubber, and Gardener, at the head of the forwards, picked up and passed over the heads of half a dozen opponents to Ward, who came on fast, took the ball beautifully and struggled past two or three visitors to put the ball over the line. It was a brilliant piece of work, and came as a fitting climax to the cleverness that Ward had shown throughout the game.” ‘Ginger’ Ward maintained his form in the following game against Metropolis, losing 5 to 8, and then was selected for Australia’s first-ever Test on 24 June 1899. Australia would win the historic Test by 13 to 3.
The first-ever Australian team in the first-ever Test played at the SCG was Bob McCowan, Charlie White, Frank Row (capt.), Lonnie Spragg, Poley Evans, Peter Ward, Austin Gralton, Alf Colton, Charlie Ellis, Alexander Kelly, Walter Davis, Hyam Marks, Patrick Carew, James Cason and Bill Tanner. Ward was heavily involved and was a stand-out on the day. Howell, et al ,wrote:” Then Gralton secured, passed to Peter Ward, and then it was on to Spragg again, who made certain this time after a dodging run and converted his own try.” Also:” The game was out of Britain’s control soon afterwards when Peter Ward got the ball, passed to Poley Evans, then to Lonnie Spragg, who was tackled by Doran, but Evans came up fast, got possession and scored between the posts.” Reporter of the time Jack Davis, wrote of him: ”Ginger-haired Peter Ward, sharp off the mark, handled perfectly, splendid break and first-rate defence.” Ward was an automatic choice for the second Test in Brisbane, lost 0-11 by Australia. Despite the loss, the Sydney Morning Herald reporter noted:” For Australia, McCowan, Evans, Ward, Currie, Carew, Ellis, Challoner and Marks did excellent work.” When the British side played NSW after their return from Queensland, Ward was selected.
It was a 5-11 loss, but NSW were a man short near the end of the first half, Galloway breaking his collarbone. There were no substitutions in those days. There were some fine runs in the game by Spragg and Ward which almost resulted in tries. He was in the following match playing for the Metropolis, which the locals won 8 to 5, and Ward kicked a conversion. The third Test was narrowly won by Britain 11 to 10. The pitch was muddy and slippery, and soon after the start ‘Ginger’ Ward amused the crowd when he was downed in the centre and on rising had a fair bit of the cricket pitch, in the form of mud, on his back. Australia’s best run was described in They Came To Conquer :”With about five minutes to go Lonnie Spragg started a fine passing movement, and then sent the ball to Peter Ward. Ward returned the pass to Spragg as he got to fullback Thompson, many believing the pass forward. Thompson could not catch Spragg as he ran for the line and scored.” “Ginger’ Ward was one of those selected for Australia’s four Tests as he was picked for the final Test against Britain, won 13 to 0 by the visitors.
It was nil-all at the half. Chester and McMillan report what happened next:” He returned to play for Southland again in 1903 but then moved to Auckland and appeared in the first Ranfurly Shield challenge when Wellington took the trophy. Also played in Shield games for Hawkes Bay and Wanganui before his retirement from first-class football.” A rugby troubadour, he simply loved to play and would travel any distance to chase the leather ball.