Thomas Sydney Griffin
- 77Wallaby Number
Tom Griffin, a strong, balding hooker, had a long association in the game, from 1904 with the powerful Glebe club until 1927-28, when he was one of the selectors of the Waratah team that performed so many glorious feats overseas. The Glebe Club was loaded with outstanding players in those days, nearly all working class men. Fred Wood, Chris McKivat, John Hickey and Syd Malcolm were among the 1908-09 Wallabies. Born in downtown Sydney, his parents gave him Sydney as a second name. He would play 42 matches for Australia from 1907 to 1912, six of them being Tests, and would play 35 matches for NSW over the same time period. He represented the Metropolitan against Combined Country from 1906 to 1908 and NSW against Queensland in 1907 and 1908. His first appearance against a touring team was for NSW against the touring All Blacks in 13 July 1907, a 3 to 11 loss. It was the opening match of their tour. He was also in the second NSW match ,again a loss, 0 to 14. Griffin’s performances propelled him into the Test team , which went up against New Zealand on the SCG on 20 July 1907.
There were 50,000 at the Test , a record that stood until the 1997 tour. Australia wore the same strip they had used for the 1905 New Zealand tour, maroon and blue stripes with a kangaroo on the left breast. Griffin did not hold his position in the second Test in Brisbane, but this was mainly for economic reasons, six Queenslanders being selected for the scrum. Only Peter Burge and Jack Barnett held their positions . It was another loss , 5 to 14. There was a third Test at the SCG, Griffin being brought back. It was a narrow 5-all draw. A week after this match the first openly professional rugby game was staged between NSW and New Zealand (the All Golds). Dally Messenger was the major loss to the new code, and he toured with the All Golds. In 1908 an Anglo-Welsh team under Arthur Harding visited Australia. Griffin was in the NSW team that faced them, losing 0 to 8. This was the end of any 1908 matches in Australia, as after the NSW game the 1908-09 Wallabies departed for England on the ‘Omrah’. Griffin was always popular on such tours, as singing was common at functions in those days.
On board the ‘Omrah’, he was on the programme of the ship’s concert. The others to feature were reporter Ernest Booth, Ward Prentice, the assistant manager Stan Wickham and Charles Hammond presented a pianoforte selection. The team gave the new war cry at the concert. There were 38 matches on the tour of the British Isles and North America , the Wallabies winning 32, drawing one and losing five. Griffin was in the first match against Devon (24-3) and he scored a try as well. Peter Burge would break his leg in this match. Griffin was in the following match against Gloucestershire (16-0) and then Cornwall (18-5). Peter Flanagan, acting as a touch judge, broke his leg. Two Wallabies were now hospitalised. Wales was next for the Wallabies but Australia won against Glamorgan County (16-3), Griffin having another fine game. He was rested against Penygraig (won 11-3). Four days was all he got off, and Griffin was in the team to play Neath and Aberavon (15-0). Following the next match he was in, against Llanelli, the Wallabies experienced their first loss (3-10). A reporter, ‘Old Stager’ , criticised the Wallaby tactics in the influential ‘Western Mail’: “The match has demonstrated that against forwards of average strength and skills, with every man utilising his weight and pushing power, the mechanical tricks of the Australians to gain control of the ball in tight scrimmages cannot prevail…They [the Australians] pack with three men in front, the two outside men , of the first rank, keeping Griffin, their champion hooker , off the ground, so that he may swing his legs when grappling for the ball…The novelty of the formation should not be permitted to affect the play of opponents, as attempts to follow the same style would court disaster …Griffin…is said to have no equal as a hooker.”
The Welsh would have as many as five in the front row. Griffin did not play against London, but more important he was selected to go up against the United Kingdom in the Olympic rugby tournament on Monday 26 October. Their opponents were in actuality Cornwall, the 1907 County champion. The Wallabies won 32 to 3. Every Australian in the match could claim to be an Olympic gold medallist. The Wallabies next travelled to the far north of England to combat Durham, and Griffin and the team romped home 29 to 7. He then played against Northumberland and Durham (18-6) and Cheshire (37-3). The University matches followed after another London encounter (24-3), Griffin scoring his second try. As Peter Sharpham put it in ‘The First Wallabies’, “with only a minute left Carmichael ran his forwards on-side with a booming up-and-under and Griffin picked up the crumbs and dived over.” Then Griffin was fielded for the fifteenth match of the tour against Cambridge University, Australia winning narrowly by 11 to 9. Sharpham noted: “Unfortunately, hooker Tom Griffin was injured after only five minutes and spent the rest of the game as a virtual ‘passenger.’” He was as a consequence unable to play against Oxford University (19-3) or Yorkshire (24-0), but was back for the Lancashire match (12-6). The Wallabies then travelled to the Midlands, Australia narrowly beating Somerset by 8 to 0.
However, with Griffin in the team, Australia lost to Combined Midlands and East Midland Counties, 5 to 16. This ended the twelve-match winning run for the Wallabies. With Griffin, a real iron man back, Australia rebounded with a 24-0 defeat of the Anglo-Welsh. Then it was off to Cardiff, for the all-important Test against Wales. Griffin made the Test team. It was another defeat for Australia, by 6 to 9, their second tour loss. Further matches in Wales followed. Griffin played against the Glamorgan League (11-3), Newport (5-3), Abertillery (3-3), Swansea (0-6), their third loss. It was a hard, one might say a dirty, game. The mean incident involved Griffin. Peter Sharpham presented the situation:- “Then came an incident which left the Wallabies with only thirteen men, described by the ‘Western Mail’ as follows: ‘The Australians were quick to reply with a magnificent rush right to the Swansea twenty-five. Then there happened an extremely regrettable incident. In front of the press seats Griffin, the Australian hooker, did something to D.J.Thomas, which roused those who saw it.
He was ordered off the field by Mr. Bowen, who had, it was stated, spoken to Griffin several times during the game.’ ‘Old Stager’ wrote : ‘Apart from his tendency to talk too much to the players, Mr Harry Bowen conducted his onerous duties - for the match was fast - in a way that shows that his “rest” has benefited him, and from what I hear on the best of authority the constant “chipping” by Griffin would have irritated a saint, though resentment played no part in the punishment , for there was no mistaking what Griffin was detected in doing.’ “What Griffin actually did was to slap D.J.Thomas on the cheek in a foolish attempt to force the Swansea forward to allow him to get his head down in the scrum. Griffin has been described as a reticent type and his action was completely out of character. Moreover, it was hardly a violent act which warranted his dismissal from the field.
The referee must have been well aware of Thomas’ disruptive tactics in the scrums and Griffin’s repeated appeals for a ‘fair go’ - the ‘constant “chipping” ‘ alluded to by ‘Old Stager’. In ‘Viewless Winds’ Herbert Moran recalled: ‘Against Swansea our hooker, who was an innocuous small forward, petulantly slapped his opposition number with an open hand and was promptly sent off. From some fatal fascination they were now making a habit of it [sending off Australians]. Some of us squirmed in silence. What could we say? It would have been stupid to point out that in Australia we had so often overlooked similar conduct in English sides. Yet, by the application of similar standards we could have penalised, say, the Anglo-Welsh team of 1908 so severely as to deprive it of half its forwards.’ “A correspondent calling himself ‘Forward’ wrote an interesting and revealing piece on the Griffin incident: ‘Tommy Griffin, who had the misfortune to be ordered off on Saturday, kept to his bedroom, on Saturday evening, utterly dispirited. It was next to impossible to rouse him, he felt his position so keenly.
Griffin is easily the most unassuming of the Wallabies, and is not the sort of man to do a dirty action, and when the full facts of Saturday’s happenings are known he will not be solely blamed. Perhaps it would be as well to point out what really did occur. Right from the start there had been a lot of unnecessary wrangling on both sides about positions. The ‘lock’ and the ‘loose head’ were of extreme importance, as may be imagined, but it was not Griffin so much but other of the Wallaby forwards who made the trouble. D.J.Thomas and Griffin were nearly always opposed to each other, and they would invariably struggle for the ‘lock’. Thomas, it appears, was more often successful by pulling Griffin’s head out of the way; as the Australian states, when he was ordered off he did not infringe as the referee believed. Thomas’ head had gone down first, and he (Griffin) swung his hand out to move the Swansea man’s head. The palm of his open hand came into contact with Thomas’ face, and this the referee constructed as a blow.
Griffin’s version is a feasible one, and, as he states, had he wanted to strike a blow he would have done so with his clenched fist and not his hand.’ “ The captain of Australia, Dr Moran, and the manager, did not pick Griffin for any more games in the British Isles. In reflection, this was an overly harsh judgment and criticism has to be directed at the captain for his lack of support of his players and an over-moralistic view of the game. Moran left the team before the tour ended to go to Edinburgh for his studies, and did not accompany the team to North America, which is quite by astounding by modern standards. Griffin was not selected in any of the five North American games. This whole subject is inadequately explained by Sharpham in what otherwise is an excellent contribution. He did not play in nine straight games. Griffin, however, was called upon to play for the Wallabies against NSW when they returned to Australia, so his enforced absence did not seem to have affected his game. This was the 1908-09 team in an exhibition match on their return. The fact that he represented the team at this time seems farcical.
In 1909 fourteen of the Wallabies defected to rugby league, but though he was prevailed upon Griffin was one of the few to stick with the amateur code. He obviously did not harbour grudges. In 1910 New Zealand toured , and Griffin played for NSW against them twice (8-24 and 11-17). He was in the first of the matches for Australia, Australia narrowly losing the first 0 to 6 but winning the second 11 to 0. Injured, he had to drop out of the third and deciding game, Jimmy Clarken taking over for him, and Australia lost 13 to 28. Also in 1910 the Maori came, and Griffin played against them twice, both for NSW - they did not play Australia - and both were wins, 11 to 0 and 17 to 13. That ended his international appearances in Australia. However, at 28 years of age he had quite a remarkable swan-song, being a member of the Australian team that played in the United States and Canada.
The tour was a farce and a disgrace. The players had a wonderful time and were at least socially successful. The Australian team won eleven and lost five of their matches, including all three Canadian games, against Vancouver, British Columbia and Victoria. Griffin played in the sole Test against the USA, barely winning 12 to 8. Despite a high number of internationals, the Australian standard of play waned with the extravagant nightlife. A warehouseman in real life, Griffin would obviously have benefitted from turning professional , but he remained true to the amateur code. He continued to make a contribution to rugby being, for example, a selector of the 1927-28 Waratahs. For many years uncontested in his position, he put back into the game almost as much as he got out of it.