William Charles Gardner
- 371Wallaby Number
Bill Gardner was a youthful Newcastle fullback of great calm and poise who had his rugby career stolen from him by illness. Safe, sound and blessed with an accurate boot, Gardner burst onto the scene in 1949, his second in first grade at the Wanderers club, with a good performance for Newcastle against Sydney, and then a ‘grand display’ against the touring Maoris. Gardner was considered to be ‘the best back on the ground, and gave a faultless display’ which earned him a state debut, also against the tourists, where his effort was described as ‘outstanding’. While Brian Piper was preferred for the Tests Gardner did win a spot in the reserves for the third and final Test.
Amazingly he was not selected for the subsequent tour to New Zealand, a decision that quickly backfired on the selectors when Piper was badly injured in a late night fall after the second match. The following year Gardner and Queensland’s Peter Costello were the two names in the frame to play the custodial role against the British Lions. Unfortunately for Costello he was one of several Queenslanders to suffer a debilitating bout of influenza during their southern tour and missed the interstate series. As a consequence Gardner was justifiably rewarded with his Test debut in Brisbane. A disrupted preparation saw Australia soundly beaten and a healthy Costello was called in for the second match in Sydney.
In 1951 Gardner contracted poliomyelitis in his arms after the first Wanderers trial match. He was confined to bed for a fortnight and his left arm and shoulder were paralysed. Doctors told Gardner that his football career had ended and that it was up to him whether he regained use of the arm. Gardner went to work with an axe and a crosscut saw around his home at Fennell's Bay. The hard work eventually paid off however he did not return to top level rugby. Bill Gardner played one Test for Australia and will forever be Wallaby #371.
Gardner won his first Test cap at fullback in the 6-19, 1st Test loss to the British Lions at the Gabba. He scored ll six of Australia’s points through two successful penalty goals.