- 299Wallaby Number
Ron Rankin was a prolific goal-kicking fullback / centre who went on to become a decorated war hero. Fellow Wallaby ‘Mick’ Cremin described Rankin as a player of the old style, a last line of defence fullback who inspired great confidence in the rest of the team. While not particularly tall or fast, he had an extremely powerful physique. Rankin always caught, passed and positioned correctly and frequently made the extra man in attack. He was extremely safe when playing the ball in the air, or on the ground, and kicked well with both feet.
Most notably, Rankin was a devastating tackler. Always alert to a line break he quickly limited an attacker’s options and then hit them with bone-jarring, head-on tackles. Born near Braidwood in southern New South Wales, Rankin was an outstanding sporting scholar during his education at Hurlstone Agricultural High School. Rankin represented in swimming, boxing, athletics, cricket, and rugby union. He captained the 1st XV and twice led the Combined High Schools XV (1932-33). Rankin also played four years of CHS cricket.
In 1934 he joined the Drummoyne club, played first grade and by the following year was made captain. Rankin was so promising in those first two years that he was viewed as a certainty to play inside centre in New Zealand (1936) and then against the Springboks (1937). Aged just 21, Rankin was selected as a three-quarter for the 1936 Wallaby tour to New Zealand and played three games at fullback, including a Test debut in Wellington. In 1937 Rankin was involved in a brouhaha after he played a trial match with the Balmain Rugby League team under the name of ‘Jones’.
Rankin explained that he had several friends at Balmain and had been invited to have a run with them. To him it was an opportunity to work up condition for the coming season given he was most anxious to be thoroughly fit, as "he was keen to meet the Springboks. The union clubs did not have good grounds available for practice games, and he did not wish to run the risk of injury on them. I certainly have no intention of playing rugby league.”
Nonetheless he was required to submit his case to the Judicial Committee of the NSWRU who decided that Rankin had offended against the rules of professionalism, and suspended him for seven days. In 1939 he was chosen for the Second Wallabies’ tour to Great Britain. Unfortunately the tour was abandoned two days after the team arrived when England declared war with Germany.Upon his return to Australia Rankin enlisted in the RAAF. After his training was completed he went to England, joined the RAF and flew Blenheims on shipping reconnaissance and escort missions.
He also flew Beaufighters over Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Sicily. Rankin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts before he completed his tour in early 1943 as an ‘ace’ having shot down at least five aircraft and shared two other aerial victories. Rankin was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (substantive) and later awarded Belgium’s Croix de Guerre. Back with the RAAF he flew Beaufighters on bombing and strafing missions over New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies. Another promotion, this time to Acting Squadron Leader soon followed as did the award of a Bar to his DFC for outstanding courage, ability, and skilful leadership.
Rankin returned to rugby in 1946, played for Australia v. The Rest in the final trial for the tour to New Zealand, and was then named in the 25 man squad. The week prior to their departure, Rankin was the lone tourist who chose to suit up for his club. Tragically he fractured his ankle and withdrew from the trip. A year later Rankin returned to representative rugby when he captained the ACT against New Zealand, and in 1953, approaching his 40th birthday, continued to show for the local Braidwood RUFC. Ron Rankin played seven Tests for Australia in a three-year international career.
Rankin won his first Test cap at fullback in the 1st Test, 6-11 loss to New Zealand at Athletic Park. When Keith Storey returned for the second Test in Dunedin, Rankin shifted to inside centre in combination with Bill McLaughlin. He earned a third cap for the year, at fullback, in the 31-6 victory over the Maori in Palmerston North.
Rankin started at fullback in both home defeats to South Africa.
Rankin played fullback in the first two home Test losses against New Zealand. He was selected, again at fullback, for the third Test but strained a muscle in his left leg at training and subsequently withdrew from the side.