Warden Selby Prentice
- 98Wallaby Number
Ward Prentice would play 32 times for Australia, six of them Tests, and once he was captain, against the United States of America. His contribution to rugby union was particularly significant as he undertook two overseas tours. In his last tour, in 1912 to the United States and Canada, Prentice was captain of Australia’s first-ever tour there. A Western Suburbs (Sydney) man through and through, four other brothers played first grade at various times, and two others would compete in the lower grades. Ward would represent and captain Australia, while brother Clarrie would be selected for one Test, against NZ in 1914. Ward would play 129 first grade games for Wests, and Clarrie 59. Clarrie would turn professional and tour with the 1921-22 Kangaroos.
With the Kangaroos Clarrie would become a dual international as he played in the three Tests, and 25 of the 36 tour games. Ward Prentice was a popular tourist, as he had a fine singing voice and would give many a rendition on ship and shore. He first came to notice for NSW against the Anglo-Welsh in 1908, and his performance was good enough to force his selection as a five-eighth on the 1908-09 tour of the British Isles and North America. The other five-eighth was Chris McKivat, arguably the best Australian back on the tour, and he therefore had to bide his time to get a chance. There was a tug-of-war going on which affected Prentice’s appearances. Fred Wood, the vice-captain, was determined to play halfback, and yet did not strike form early on. Then everyone became increasingly aware that the superior halfback was McKivat.
The Wood-McKivat combination dominated, however, and Prentice’s opportunities were often in the centres, particularly inside centre. He was versatile enough to take it all in his stride. In the first 15 games, he only played in three. Against Oxford University he was placed in his preferred position, five-eighth, with McKivat at halfback. This was the match where Syd Middleton was sent off the field for throwing a punch, and the Wallabies played a man short most of the game. Australia, despite this, won 19 to 3. Prentice impressed with his dodging runs and smooth play. Against Yorkshire McKivat and Prentice teamed up again. Peter Sharpham wrote in The First Wallabies that knee injuries were also a factor in his limited appearances but noted that throughout the tour he “distinguished himself by his unselfish team play and clever cross-kicking for his loose forwards and wingers,” and that he “was a very astute cover-defender and on numerous occasions on tour saved certain tries by launching himself at opposition wingers when they were set to score.”
Pollard, in Australian Rugby observed that he “had exceptional handling ability.” The match prior to the first international against Wales was against the Anglo-Welsh, and this time he partnered the vice-captain, Fred Wood. In the ‘try of the match’ Prentice side-stepped through almost the whole team and scored in the corner. In what must have been a tense meeting of the selectors, Chris McKivat was selected as halfback for the Test over the vice-captain Fred Wood, and Prentice was slotted into five-eighth. In the emotion-charged Test, Prentice’s first, he set up Australia’s first try by flanker Tom Richards, and impressed once more with his dodging runs and solid defence.
However he had to go off the field for a time as twice he was kicked in the mouth during the first half and had to have stitches inserted after the game. Australia lost the match 6 to 9, the manager James McMahon stating it was: “the fastest game I ever saw, and I suppose, considering the [slippery] nature of the ground, the Australians played remarkably well.” Prentice proved himself of Test standard, and that he was not awed by the occasion. The extent of the injury to his mouth was such that he was to miss the following five matches, yet he was picked in the second Test against England, as a centre. McKivat and Arthur McCabe were the halfback-five-eighth selection.
Australia won a hard-fought match 9 to 3. Prentice was injured during the match at Blackheath, but never shirked his duties on the field. He did not play in the final two matches of the British section of the tour. He had only played in eight of 30 matches, but two of them were the most important in the calendar, the Tests against Wales and England. There were to be five matches on the Canadian and USA sections of the tour, and Prentice would play in all of them, thus increasing his games to 13 of 35. When the Wallabies returned home, he fronted up against NSW, in the centre. The greatest moments of his career were undoubtedly his captaincy of the 1912 Australian team to the USA and Canada.
It was not an easy tour, as players were placed in various fraternity houses and discipline was virtually impossible to control. The American Universities had previously come to Australia to play against various university and country teams and the Maori. That visit was disappointing, but it was felt by the NSW authorities that the potential in America was unlimited, and they agreed to the 1912 tour. Ward Prentice was captain, and Dr Otto Bohrsmann the manager. The secretary of the NSWRU, W.W. Hill, toured with the team and refereed some of the games. Though nominally an Australian team, only four of the 24 were from Queensland, five if Queensland-born Tom Richards, now a resident in NSW, was included. The jersey was the NSW light blue one including the Waratah emblem, with the word Australia under the Waratah. It was not a successful tour. Some 16 matches were played, and only 11 were won.
The Australians were beaten by Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, and the three Canadian teams, Vancouver, British Columbia and Victoria. There was one Test only, against the USA, which Australia won narrowly 11 to 8. Prentice captained Australia in the Test, and played in the centre, and kicked a penalty goal near the end. On tour, Prentice never spared himself, playing in 15 of the 16 tour games. This tour was his swan-song to international rugby. A fine sportsman, Ward Prentice was one of the few to represent his State in both rugby and cricket. He was to be badly wounded in World War I, but lived to the ripe old age of 82.