Walter Gordon Bennett
- 269Wallaby Number
Gordon Bennett was a stockily built halfback who emerged from Syd Malcolm’s long shadow to play a starring role in the Wallabies first ever victory over South Africa. Born and bred in Brisbane, Bennett possessed a devastating break from the scrum and was a stout defender. He was also immensely strong in the upper body. Described as a ‘pocket Hercules’, Bennett became something of a star in the amateur wrestling world. He won numerous Queensland amateur lightweight wrestling championships and in 1931 emerged victorious in the state’s heavyweight division despite conceding more than 40lbs to his opponent. Of even greater note was his defeat, on points and after an extra round, in the final of the lightweight division at the 1932 National Games that doubled as the key selection trial for the Los Angeles Olympics.
When Bennett completed his education at the Church of England Grammar School he played rugby league with Carlton as the QRU had abandoned rugby when World War I commenced. When the union was reformed in 1929 Bennett joined YMCA and a little over a year later made his debut for Queensland, against New South Wales in Sydney. In 1930 he went within a whisker of making the step to national honours when he started for The Rest against the Waratahs in the final trial ahead of the home Test series against the Lions however incumbent half Syd Malcolm unsurprisingly earned selection for what was Australia’s sole international of the season. Bennett emerged as a strong leader the following year when in an ‘outstanding’ performance he captained the Maroons to a record 28-8 win over New South Wales.
He followed that with a series of sound displays in the trials for the tour to New Zealand and as a consequence was chosen in the squad as Malcolm’s understudy. He played in four matches and although he did not know it at the time the second of those would, ruled to be so some some 55 years later, would be his Test debut, against the Maori in Palmerston North. After the All Blacks routed Australia in 1932 to the Bledisloe Cup, there was heightened interest in the subsequent selection trials to choose the Wallaby team for their 1933 tour of South Africa. Despite Bennett’s strong claims it was a stroke of good fortune - brilliant Sydney University half Jan McShane accepted a Rhodes Scholarship and withdrew from consideration - that ultimately won him a place on the tour. Although Bennett began the tour as the No.2 half a big opportunity emerged when Malcolm badly injured his shoulder in the fourth match, against Pretoria, and was sidelined for several weeks.
Bennett played the next nine matches in succession and won widespread acclaim for this form in the second of the five Tests. An easy victory in the first test had given South Africa the idea that they could beat Australia at their own game. The ‘Boks changed their tight-rucking strategy for the open back-line game at which Australia excelled, and it proved their downfall. Bennett, described as the ‘hero’ of the match caught the defence napping with his sudden dashes from the scrum base and helped to deliver an unlikely Wallaby victory. Malcolm returned for the final two Tests and held his spot for the 1934 home series against New Zealand. Unfortunately Australia did not play a single international in 1935 and as such the following year’s return tour to New Zealand took on even greater importance. Unfortunately a shoulder injury suffered in a hotel-room accident ultimately ruled Bennett out of consideration.
In 1937, and with the Springboks set to arrive on Australian shores, Bennett was transferred to Lismore and retired from representative rugby. Gordon Bennett played four Tests for Australia in a three-year international career.
Bennett won his first Test cap at halfback, with Jack Steggall as his fly half, in the 14-3 victory over the Maori at Showgrounds Oval.
Bennett started at halfback in the first three Tests of the five match away series against South Africa.