Thomas Shaftesbury Smith
- 172Wallaby Number
Tom Smith was one of the few certain selections in the New South Wales forward pack during the first half of the 1920s, as most of his contemporaries were either unavailable for matches or tours or had short careers due to the pressure of studies or the need to earn a living. Although Smith was out of the side for two years (1923-24), he was immediately back in the front row as soon as he was again available.
A World War I veteran and six years older than his brother, Norman, who played seven Tests in the 1920s, Tom Smith was a midget by today’s standards and certainly would not be able to play in the front row, weighing only 11st 6lb (73kg). Actually Norman – a winger – was both taller and heavier but Tom was hard enough to hold his own against men more his size than would be the case now. Service at Gallipoli, where Tom was wounded, was enough to harden any man. Smith was not a member of the 1919 AIF team and made his initial appearance in big-time rugby against the 1921 Springboks, when he was 28- years –of- age. He played throughout that series, marking a succession of significantly heavier opponents (he gave away at least two stone to each), and was part of a pack that struggled for parity throughout the series.
For all that his performances were easily good enough to win a place on the 1921 New Zealand tour, and here Smith blossomed into one of the State’s foremost players of the day. Although the 1921 Waratahs did not have a particularly formidable itinerary, they could have done little more than they did. Brushing aside one challenge after another, they went unbeaten through their eight-match build-up to the only Test. Smith had been busy but not worked to exhaustion, as there were four capable props in the party and each received reasonable game time. While it appeared that Smith and Tom Davis would be the Test pair, every combination was tried out before the obvious one was settled upon for the big match. This the tourists won in overwhelming style; the 17-0 victory remains the heaviest defeat ever suffered by New Zealand at home.
Smith, who had a fine match, scored the last of New South Wales’ four tries, capping a most impressive team effort. Although outweighed – the touring pack was one of the smallest ever to visit New Zealand – the vigorous play of the blue-clad eight completely put the home side off its game and there was only ever one team in it. The chances of an unbeaten tour went down the drain at Wellington, against one of the country’s best teams and on one of the few heavy pitches encountered on tour, but the visit could only be regarded as an outstanding success and Smith was one of the outstanding players.
On the back of such a fine season, Smith was guaranteed to be one of the first-choice players in 1922. He played in the last two matches of the thrilling series with the New Zealand Maori side, which the visitors won by the odd match in three after recovering from a 6-22 deficit in the decider, and was in the side for all three Tests against a full All Black side a month later. New South Wales caused something of a surprise in this series, winning 2-1 after dropping the first match and inflicting the first series defeat ever suffered by an All Black team.
Once again the home forwards worked manfully to hold the bigger touring pack and the Tests, which were all close-run affairs, showed how good the State team could be if only they were not hampered by persistent unavailability. Smith himself was out of the picture for the next two seasons and many supposed his day was done – after all, he was now 30 – but the veteran still had a contribution to make. Smith was included in the State team that met the 1925 All Blacks in the first of a three-match series but, along with 12 others, was dropped following a poor showing by the Test team and a good one midweek by the Second XV.
He recovered his place for the third match, which New Zealand won 11-6, and was again chosen to tour New Zealand, this time alongside his brother. Anyone who thought Smith may have been an incidental tourist was quickly proved wrong, as the Manly veteran played all of the first seven matches. This team, like the 1921 side, was very strong. Smith’s admirable career closed with that tour and he retired, aged 32, and one of the few players of his time who kept the game up for so long.