William George "Twit" Tasker
- 130Wallaby Number
Bill ‘Twit’ Tasker was on the threshold of a fine career when war was declared in 1914 and, like so many of his contemporaries, had his career ended by the conflict. Like a smaller but still huge number of them, Tasker was killed in action in France in 1918. Had he survived, he would have been young enough to have continued playing for several years to come, but that possibility was removed in the mud and slush of trench warfare. Before signing up Tasker had been part of an exciting halfback combination with Fred Wood and the pair were both complementary and well-matched on the field. Australian rugby was hard-hit by the long roll of war casualties and Tasker’s name was one of the most prominent. He first came to light at Newington College in the late Edwardian era, where he was considered to be a most promising inside back.
That promise was amply borne out by his rapid rise through senior ranks, first with Newtown club and, in 1912, with the full New South Wales side that played Queensland in the selection trials for a new venture, a full tour of America and Canada. Tasker did well enough to be selected and on tour did well enough to play nine matches, although this tour must rank as one of the most poorly organised of all time. The players were almost uncontrolled from the time they set foot on American soil, staying in the university fraternity houses rather than hotels and having all the distractions of American campus life therefore placed directly in their path.
Do not for one minute think that student hijinks are a recent invention; from reports filed by various players it is clear that sleeping was well down the priority list and some made do with little or none for days on end. As a result the playing record was a poor one: five matches were lost, two in California and all three played in Canada, while the sole Test was only won 12-8. Twelve months later the All Blacks made a similar tour and laid waste to all opposition, winning all 16 matches and scoring 156 tries to one – which tells the most eloquent tale of the Wallabies’ off-field ill-discipline. Tasker was not cast aside as a result of this tour and, indeed, his cards do not seem to have been marked in any way, although Bob Adamson, who was never chosen again, got the Test spot.
Tasker next represented his State against a touring New Zealand Maori team in 1913, playing both matches of an interesting series. Dudley Suttor was the star for New South Wales but the good service he received from inside often gave him the half-yard he needed and Tasker was considered to have played well in both matches. He was a sure selection for the New Zealand tour and was duly chosen as the number one flyhalf. He played all the big matches in New Zealand, although his play initially suffered from operating behind a beaten pack. Especially in the first Test, which was played in pouring rain and with a gale blowing down Athletic Park, Tasker could only operate with scraps of possession.
Despite that local press reports were full of praise for the young flyhalf, noting that his clever breaks led to a number of tries and his handling seldom fell below a very high plane, even on wet grounds. The first-choice All Blacks left for California after thumping the Wallabies in the first Test and the last two were far more evenly contested; Australia won the third 16-5 in a match they controlled throughout and the decisive score was a try to Suttor after Tasker had opened the defence. There was never any doubt he would be chosen for the Tests against the 1914 All Blacks and opposed that combination five times – both New South Wales matches and the three Tests.
Those All Blacks were a fine team and, had the war not intervened, they would probably be far more famous than they actually are today. In both 1913 and 1914 they suffered no losses on tour and piled up huge scores while defending their line magnificently – something the Wallabies were unable to overcome throughout the series and the home side only managed one try in the three matches. Tasker was never in a position to control the matches – his forwards did not win enough possession for that – and was always trying to fashion openings against a team possessing superior speed. For all that he played well enough, but the honours of that series rested with the visitors. Australian rugby players were at the head of the enlistment queues around the country and Tasker, like all his Wallaby teammates, was among the first to offer his services. He was shipped overseas early in the conflict and remained away almost for the duration, being killed in action in France in 1918.