Reginald Edward Millen MacLaughlin
- 296Wallaby Number
Bill McLaughlin was an impressive centre three-quarter who played one year of international rugby before a storied career in the game’s administration. Born in Sydney and briefly educated at Newington College, McLaughlin played 1st XI cricket and 3rd XV rugby in 1930 but then left school aged just 16. McLaughlin first came to the attention of Sydney crowds in 1935 when he graduated from Kentwell Cup with Briars to Western Suburbs’ first grade side. Although described as ‘not powerfully built’ he had ‘plenty of pace and handled well’. Some good judges were so impressed they considered him to be ‘the probable successor to Cyril Towers’.
McLaughlin made such a strong impression in the early part of the season that he was rewarded with a state debut against Victoria. In that match ‘the two babes’, McLaughlin and fellow centre Geoff Wansey, ‘gave abundant proof of their class as centres’. The following year he was well in the running to win a spot on the Wallaby tour to New Zealand before injury struck. McLaughlin wrenched his ankle in a club match and despite several weeks of rest followed by a testing first grade match, he was not given the all clear after the initial team medical. Retired Wallaby Sid King wrote at the time that his ‘loss to the team would be irreparable’ as he was ‘easily the most brilliant of the inside backs’ and his presence ‘required for the necessary thrust and penetration so essential to the Australian style of football.’
He was eventually given the green light to tour and although he played solidly in the early matches an international debut looked unlikely when Ron Rankin and ‘Shirts’ Richards were chosen as the first Test centre pairing. When fullback Keith Storey thigh injury failed to respond to treatment, Tom Pauling, not McLaughlin, was called into the side. Then, on the morning of the match, a torn thigh muscle forced fly half ‘Wally’ Lewis to withdraw and McLaughlin came in for his debut. In 1937 McLaughlin was outplayed by Cyril Towers when Wests played Randwick and the wily veteran went on to hold the outside position for the main representative matches of the season. Two years later the sole focus for all elite rugby players was the Second Wallaby tour to Great Britain. McLaughlin was initially chosen for the Combined XV side to play New South Wales in the second-to-last trial match for the tour however he was elevated to start for The Rest (v. Australia) when ‘Shirts’ Richards was forced out with a carbuncle on his knee.
Despite McLaughlin’s strong claims for consideration ‘Blow’ Ide, ‘Wally’ Lewis and Len Smith were selected as the centres in the touring party. The following year McLaughlin joined the 2nd Australian Imperial Force where he served as as an officer in an anti-aircraft gun crew and toured in the Middle East. After the war he returned to Wests, played his 100th first grade match and retired at the end of the season. McLaughlin flourished in the administrative side of the game being a selector, coach, administrator and manager at every level up to and including international. He coached / managed Australia from 1958-61, rose President of the Australian Rugby Union and was later made a Life Member of the national body.
McLaughlin won his first Test cap at outside centre, paired with Tom Pauling, in the 1st Test, 6-11 loss to New Zealand at Athletic Park. He scored Australia’s only try in that match to become the 25th Wallaby to score a try on debut. McLaughlin retained his position, this time outside of first Test fullback Ron Rankin, in the 2nd Test, 13-38 defeat at Carisbrook.