- 4Wallaby Number
The moustachioed Bill Davis will ever be remembered as having played in Australia’s first-ever Test team in 1899. Not that moustaches were a rarity in those days as seven of the team, Davis, ‘Jum’ Carson, ‘Tiger’ Kelly, ‘Poley’ Evans, Charlie Ellis, the captain Frank Row and ‘Grolly’ Gralton and even the referee, M.R. Garrard, sported such appendages. A player for the old Marrickville Club, the 22-year-old was a forward, is generally thought to be a lock, but the positions varied somewhat, and Great Britain most often used the ‘first up, first down’ principle in packing down. One reference had him as a New Zealander and we hold this to be so, but this is not noted in the generally reliable Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby. The Australian literature simply listed him as a ‘strong, tight forward’.
Peter Ward, the only other Marrickville player to make the Test team, was also a New Zealander. The first match the Reverend Mullineux-led side played was against Central Southern NSW at Goulburn, and the second was against NSW at the SCG. The final score was 4 to 3 in Great Britain’s favour, and Davis impressed, playing three days later for the Metropolis before being selected for Australia’s first Test team on 24 June 1899. It was a 13 to 3 victory for Australia. Australia played a 2-3-2 scrum in 1899, as did New Zealand, but after this tour Australia switched to a 3-2-3. The coach of the Australian team in this historic venture was ex-New Zealander Billy Warbrick. The referee, ‘Gun’ Garrard, was also a New Zealander. The captain, Frank Row, was elected by the players prior to the kick-off.
The British team not only played against Queensland, but also had matches at Bundaberg, Rockhampton (twice) Mt. Morgan and Maryborough. The second Test was at Brisbane at Bowen Park Exhibition Ground. Doubtless as a cost-saving exercise, Walter Davis and even the first captain, Frank Row, were not ‘invited’ to play. However Davis was back for the second NSW game, as well as a second Metropolis game, and was selected for the third Test at the SCG, won by Great Britain 11 to 10. He was also picked for the fourth and final Test, also won by the visitors 13 to 0. So he was in three of the four Tests.
When New Zealand visited Australia in 1903, Davis was picked for the second NSW game and the Metropolitan Union fixture, but did not play for Australia against them. That ended his career against touring teams. He was an engineer by profession. The Australian team’s first-ever Test, then, was against Great Britain at the SCG on 24 June 1899. The historic team was Bob McCowan, Charlie White, Frank Row (capt.), Lonnie Spragg, Poley Evans, Peter Ward, Austin Gralton, Alf Colton, Charlie Ellis, Alexander Kelly, William Davis, Hyam Marks, Patrick Carew, James Carson and Bill Tanner. It was a 13 to 3 victory. Australia played a 2-3-2 scrum, copying the New Zealand formation of the time period.