Walter Alfred Rigney
- 218Wallaby Number
Wal Rigney was an aggressive loose forward of the mid-1920s who became one of the few Wallabies to enlist for both World Wars. Standing a tick over 6ft (1.83m) but weighing just 12st (76kg), Rigney was more than useful third option in the lineout as well as being a dedicated ball-follower. Born and bred in Sydney, Rigney won a scholarship to complete his education at the prestigious Fort Street School. He enlisted in August 1916 and joined the 1st Australian Divisional Ammunition Column in France.
During the course of the war Rigney was wounded in action in Belgium and later earned the award of the Military Medal for ‘bravery in the field’. He emerged in senior club rugby with Eastern Suburbs in the 1921 season where he showed ‘a great deal of promise’ and went on to be part of that season’s first grade premiership winning side. He continued to turn out for Easts over the following three seasons however the presence of a raft of top quality flankers including Derby Loudon, Ted Thorn, Ray Elliott, Bill Marrott and Ted Greatorex denied him opportunity at representative levels. Rigney’s first real break came in the 1925 season when he was chosen for the ‘Second XV’ v. New South Wales trial ahead of the first home Test against New Zealand.
Rigney was then named as a reserve for the opening international however that proved to be a godsend for two reasons. Firstly, New South Wales were trounced 3-26 and secondly Rigney was subsequently picked in the state’s 2nd XV for the second tour match where the home side stunned the tourists 18-16. As a consequence Rigney was one of an incredible 11 members from that winning 2nd XV team who were promoted to the run-on side for the second test three days later and, despite the short turnaround, distinguished themselves in a narrow 0-4 defeat. Although he did not know it at the time that match was Rigney’s official Test debut after an ARU decision in 1994 elevated the remaining 34 New South Wales matches played against international opposition in the 1920-28 period to Test status (the five 1927/28 Waratahs’ internationals were given Test status in 1986). That performance earned Rigney a trip to New Zealand where his consistent form saw him start in the one-off Test.
Although New South Wales were humbled 10-36 by an All Black side that included 14 of their 1924/25 “Invincibles” Rigney did receive special praise from the local press for a tireless effort against formidable odds and it was noted that he played well above his weight. In 1926 he was named captain of Easts and made the 2nd XV of the four trial teams for the pending inbound tour from New Zealand however his only cap came in the hastily arranged and previously unscheduled fourth Test. The following year, and despite his advancing age, Rigney earned plaudits for consistent and outstanding form, and was considered to be ‘in the mix’ for a spot on the Waratahs tour to the northern hemisphere. He was picked in the No.1 team for the first of the two sets of trials but unfortunately withdrew from both due to injury and subsequently missed selection in the 29-man squad.
The press of the day wrote: “Among those who missed the trip were many fine players, including Loudon, Ives, Rigney”. In 1928 Rigney, in his final major representative match, started for The Rest of New South Wales against the Waratahs upon their return to Australia. Rigney also captained Easts for a final season that year before he returned to service with the 7th Field Brigade (later the 7th Field Regiment). In July 1942 he again enlisted for service with numerous Australian Field Regiments and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Wal Rigney played three Tests for Australia in a two-year international career. In 1925 Rigney won his first Test cap at flanker alongside Ted Thorn and Bill Laycock in the 0-4, 2nd Test loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. He earned a second cap, again on the flank, in the 10-36 defeat to the All Blacks at Eden Park. In 1926 Rigney partnered Thorn and Wal Ives in the back row for the 4th Test, 21-28 loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground.