Phillip Angus Hardcastle
- 328Wallaby Number
If a quizmaster asked a room of rugby enthusiasts to name the first Wallaby born in Argentina it is highly likely that not a single answer would be Phil Hardcastle. Nonetheless it is an indisputable fact that almost 40 years before the great ‘Topo’ Rodriguez played his maiden Test for the Wallabies, against Fiji in 1984, Hardcastle - born in Buenos Aires - debuted in Australia’s first post-World War II rugby international. A gentle giant of winger-cum-lock forward, one who revelled in the tight exchanges, Hardcastle was a champion high jumper and ‘brilliant all-round athlete’ during his time at The Scots College in Sydney.
After graduation he enrolled in Medicine at the University of Sydney, played his way into the first grade side and started on the right wing when Uni defeated Wests 14-3 to win the 1937 premiership. A year later Hardcastle debuted for New South Wales against Queensland however at more than 16st. it was no surprise he ‘lacked the pace’ of rivals Frank O’Brien, Max Carpenter and John Howard. In 1940, after four defeats in five games, University moved Hardcastle to flanker where he ‘played splendidly’, so good in fact that he was chosen for the North Harbour v. South Harbour trial and soon became a ‘dominating force’ in Uni’s pack.
In 1943 Hardcastle, by now a doctor with his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery degree, enlisted with the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. He attained the rank of Captain and saw eight months of operational service in New Guinea. Upon his return to rugby Hardcastle moved to Easts under All Black and Wallaby Ted Jessep where he shifted into the middle row. He was picked to tour New Zealand under Bill McLean and showed himself to be an indispensable member of the pack. Hardcastle played in 10 of the 12 matches including all three Tests and was rated ‘one of the most improved forwards’ on tour.
The following year Hardcastle led NSW to one of their greatest victories, the 12-9 defeat of Freddie Allen’s All Blacks, before he was appointed as the 33th Wallaby test captain, against the tourists in Brisbane. As a consequence of that appointment Hardcastle was considered a strong chance to lead the Third Wallabies tour to the U.K. and Europe however that honour fell to Queensland’s Bill McLean. Any disappointment from that decision was cast aside as Hardcastle proved to be one of the most popular tourists.
After a lean two seasons of representative football he forced his way back into the NSW side in 1950 to play the British Lions however Nick Shehadie and Rex Mossop locked the scrums in both Tests. Hardcastle then announced his retirement in order to devote more time to his medical practice and his family. Sadly, he was the first of the Third Wallabies team to pass away, aged just 43.
Hardcastle won his first Test cap at lock alongside fellow debutant Bill McLean in the 1st Test, 8-31 loss to New Zealand at Carisbrook. He picked up a further two caps in the 0-20 loss to the Maori in Hamilton and in the 10-14, 2nd Test defeat to New Zealand at Eden Park.
Hardcastle captained the Wallabies in the 1st Test, 5-13 loss to New Zealand in Brisbane before eight changes were made for Sydney in what was seen as a key trial for selection on the Third Wallabies tour.
The Australian selectors made a number of bemusing positional selections for the first Test team to play the Maori as they named no less than eight debutants. The result was an embarrassing 12-3, four tries to one defeat. ‘Wild Bill’ Cerutti came out and said, "[Arthur] Buchan and Hardcastle, noted specialists in their positions, would be invaluable in the Australian team against the Maoris.’ Although overlooked for Brisbane, both made a belated return for the third Test in Sydney where it was written that along with Dave Brockhoff, they supplied ‘the toughness to the forwards which enabled them to match the fiery Maori pack, and paved the way for their brilliant backs to run the opposition almost into a state of exhaustion’ in what was an 18-3 victory.