Thomas Sydney Richmond Davis
- 150Wallaby Number
Tom Davis had a very good career with New South Wales for the first half of the 1920s and was a first-choice selection for most of it. Already 25 when the war ended, he was a 30-year-old veteran of 33 matches when he was dropped after an experimental New South Wales team had given a feeble second-half showing in the first Test of 1925. Although most of the players from that match were chosen again after a lapse of a match or two, Davis was done. Thus one of the best tight forwards of his day had a less than fitting end to his career, but everything that had happened previously more than made up for it. He made his debut against the 1920 All Blacks, appearing in five of the seven matches played by the tourists; as well as the three State games he played both Metropolitan Union games. Those All Blacks were a fine side and they returned home unbeaten, a rare occurrence between the wars.
New South Wales was no’ mug’ outfit either, but the visitors were good enough to take all three sternly-contested but free-flowing matches by decent margins. The second Metropolitan game, contested by a strong-looking home side, was an absolute fiasco; after scoring in the first minute, Metropolitan then stopped tackling as the All Blacks ran up a record 79 points. While some players’ careers never really recovered from being part of that shambles, Davis was playing so well it that his stocks were not damaged. Even a change of clubs – he left Glebe-Balmain and moved to Western Suburbs early in his career - had helped his advance rather than hindered it and he was one of the first chosen to face the Springboks in 1921. Those Springboks were giants by the standards of the day – the pack included a couple of 17-stoners - but Davis held his own.
New South Wales lost all three Tests, mainly through superior speed in the three-quarters, and a solid-looking team was chosen for the New Zealand tour a month later. Davis, naturally, was chosen and became one of the mainstays. Although this team did not meet many of the major unions it still fashioned a good record; so much so that when the one Test was played, New South Wales was still unbeaten after eight matches. They were unbeaten after nine, too, since the All Blacks took a 0-17 defeat that remains the heaviest loss ever suffered by a New Zealand side at home. Davis, a solid 5ft 10in (1.78m), 13st (83kg) front-row forward, had been one of the leading players throughout and he gave a fine display in the Test, showing out well in the loose as well as doing his work in the tight. A loss to Wellington did nothing to cheapen the team’s achievement and New Zealand critics were quick to name Davis as one of the best packmen on tour, noting he was always fit and maintained a high standard of performance.
Davis retained his place throughout a tough winter in 1922, appearing in all six matches now considered Tests – three against the touring New Zealand Maori side followed by three against the full All Black team. The Maori series was lost after three entertaining games but the All Black series was won 2-1 after the visitors took the first match, which represented the first-ever defeat for New Zealand in any series, home or away. Davis had now run his streak of consecutive internationals to 13, but there it would stop. He was injured in the early going in 1923 and missed the first two matches of another series against New Zealand Maori, but returned for the third match and then captained Metropolitan in a rare appearance for them against the tourists; by now, as one of the established stars, he tended to be rested for these games as the selectors looked at new talent.
Perhaps he was just being asked to prove his fitness before the team to tour New Zealand was named; if that was the case he passed the test easily and took his place in the touring party, one of the few players with any worthwhile experience among a bunch of ‘greenhorns’. That team was doomed from the moment ten of the State’s leading players declared their unavailability and the six University players were held back for a week by examinations. The tour started badly and went downhill from there; as the All Black selectors realised that it did not really matter which 15 of the country’s best 40 or so players took the field for the Tests, the home side was greatly changed for every match, eventually using 37 players in the three Tests. Davis battled on against these huge odds, being one of two players to appear in all ten matches (Ted Thorn was the other) and one of the few who emerged from the wreckage with their reputations still reasonably intact. Davis captained the side against Waikato-Bay of Plenty-Thames Valley, one of two matches that resulted in a victory, and generally gave a solid performance each time out. He was unable to do much more than stand firm in the breach, however; there were just too many breaches.
Back in Sydney Davis played against the 1924 All Blacks as part of the Golden Jubilee series, being part of the team that gained a surprising but meritorious victory in the first match but losing his place after the All Blacks turned the tables in impressive style in the second. That first match, not the second, was the aberration though; this All Black team was about to embark on an unbeaten 32-match northern hemisphere tour and return to undying fame as ‘the Invincibles’, one of the most famous rugby teams of all time. As noted at the beginning of this story, Davis returned for one final game in 1925 but was one of many discarded in the wake of a weak team effort.