Robin John Heming
- 466Wallaby Number
Rob Heming was the greatest line-out jumper in the world during the period he played international rugby. He ensured the Wallabies’ possession from a set piece from which they struggled to do prior his arrival on the Test stage in 1961 at the ripe old age of 28. It was not that Heming was a late bloomer in rugby, he was simply a late arrival.
Born in Namatanai, in New Ireland off New Guinea, his father had emigrated from England to Australia however during the struggle of the Depression was unable to find a job in his adopted country and headed north to manage a copra plantation. The family lived in Namatanai until the Japanese invaded New Guinea whereupon Rob, his mother and sister were evacuated on the last boat out to Australia. His father stayed behind and was later killed by the Japanese.
A young Heming enjoyed the seaside life in the Sydney suburb of Manly and attended North Sydney Boys’ High. Swimming was his sporting passion and, while he studied optometry at University, Heming swam in the final trials to represent Australia in the 100 metres freestyle at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Heming finished just out of a place, behind Jon Henricks, John Devitt and Gary Chapman who later took gold, silver and bronze at the Games.
Aged 23, Heming searched for another pursuit and headed down to Manly Rugby Club, where his long limbs and extraordinary leap had him in the first-grade side in his opening season at No. 8. In 1957 Heming won a spot in the Possibles v. Probables trials for the 1957-58 Fifth Wallabies tour to the British Isles but missed out to players with vastly more experience. The following year he made his debut for New South Wales against the 1957/58 Wallabies but was unavailable for the tour to New Zealand after he bought an optometry practice. It was during this period that Heming worked hard in the gym and developed massive calf muscles to perfect a standing jump that allowed him to clap his hands above a rugby crossbar.
In 1961 Heming was chosen for his Test debut against Fiji in Brisbane. He toured South Africa the same year and played No. 8. Heming was only 13 stone 7 on that tour however when he returned two years later, he was 15 stone. It was on that 1963 tour that Heming was hailed as the greatest line-out forward in the game. He missed the first Test through injury and the Wallabies were cleaned up at the lineout. Heming and Ken Catchpole returned’ for the second Test in Cape Town, Australia won 9-5 and caused a sensation with an 11-9 third-Test triumph in Johannesburg. It was the first back-to-back losses at home for the Springboks that century.
The leading South African rugby writer A.C.Parker wrote: “Without him [Heming] it is doubtful whether Australia would have won two Tests.” The following year, Heming toured New Zealand and was part of the 20-5, 3rd Test victory, the largest ever All Blacks’ loss at home. The doyen of New Zealand rugby writers, T.E. McLean, wrote of Heming, “A star is born.” In 1965 he played a leading role in Australia’s first series win against South Africa. Australia had not won a home series against a major nation in 31 years when they headed into the second and final Test in Brisbane. With about 15 minutes left, and Australia ahead by 12-8, Heming was knocked out in a ruck. He came to on the sideline, shrugged off the ambulance guys and charged back out there. He won the very next line-out with a magnificent leap and that act immediately lifted the rest of the team. John Thornett said, “He was an inspiration that day.” Almost 40 years later, Heming recalled the match as perhaps his finest in an amazing career. In 1966/67 Heming toured for the final time, with the Fifth Wallabies to Britain.
In ‘The Top 100 Wallabies’ written by Peter Jenkins, Heming was selected by a panel of seven, including five Wallabies, at number 23 and the second row partner of John Eales in the Top XV. In 2021 Heming was inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame.
Rob Heming played 21 Tests for Australia in a seven-year international career.
Heming made his Test debut against Fiji at lock alongside John Thornett in the 2nd Test, 20-14 victory over Fiji at the S.C.G. That lock pairing was retained for the final two Tests of that series. Heming played No.8 in the two away Test losses against South Africa and the 8-15 defeat to France at the S.C.G.
Heming was unavailable for the opening Test against New Zealand due to business commitments but returned to play No.8 alongside John O’Gorman and Ted Heinrich in the 2nd Test, 5-14 loss in Sydney. On the tour to New Zealand, Heming played at No.8 in each of the three Tests.
Heming missed the first Test loss to South Africa due to an ongoing ankle injury. He recovered to take his place at lock, alongside Peter Crittle, for the remaining three Tests of the series.
The Crittle / Heming combination started all three away Tests against New Zealand.
Heming and Crittle were paired for both home wins against South Africa.
Heming and Crittle partnered at lock for the two home losses to the British Lions.
Heming started the opening Test of the tour against Wales but broke bones in his foot and strained an Achilles tendon in the first 10 minutes. Nonetheless he battled on as no replacements were allowed at that time. Heming returned to fitness in time to play the final international, against France in Paris.