William Heath Mann
Billy Mann was one of seven Sydney Grammar School products who toured with the famous 1927/28 Waratahs, including the captain A.C. ‘Johnny’ Wallace, vice-captain Charlie Fox and fullback Alec Ross. He was only 19 when the team left Sydney in July, 1927.
Mann’s chance to join the team came with the unavailability of two of the State’s leading wingers, Bryan Palmer who had recently married, and Owen ‘Stumpy’ Crossman. The story is told that the State selectors, Tom Griffin, Harry Bosward and Arthur Walker went to a club game to watch Sydney University’s Allan Kennedy, but were so impressed with team- mate Mann, who scored four tries on the other wing, that he was chosen instead. Whether this is strictly accurate or not, his selection was a surprise and Mann was in awe of his illustrious team mates. Letters, sent from the Ormonde, showed how proud he was to be touring with them.
After playing against the Ceylon National XV, which consisted mainly of English tea planters, on a ground set inside the picturesque Colombo Racecourse, he wrote to his parents: “The setting for the match was ideal. It was all I’ve head of Paradise. There was a huge concourse to watch the match and Ceylon turned out in all white. I never felt so proud in my life. In the first half I dropped a few passes, which weren’t too accurate but in the second half I think I played better and got a try. I was told afterwards by various people that everyone was asking who number 5 was and saying what a good game he played so I felt rather bucked.”
Although his Test match chances were negated by the depth of wingers which included ‘Johnny’ Wallace, Eric Ford and Allen Bowers, the slightly built Mann had a splendid tour. His speed and balanced running netted him ten tries in ten matches, five in the UK and five in the three games in Canada which were played on the way home. Sadly he had contracted an eye infection in France which deteriorated upon his return.
Mann spent six months in a dark room and required a reader to help him with his studies. His eye never fully recovered but even worse was to follow. He made a comeback and tore a knee cartilage so badly his very promising career was over at the age of 20. He continued with his studies, graduating from Sydney University in 1933 and practiced law in Sydney until his untimely death in a motor accident aged 56.
Billy Mann never played in a Test, yet he was in ten non-Test matches throughout the 1927-28 Waratah tour. He also got Blues at Sydney University in 1927 and 1928. On top of the tour matches, Billy Mann played another game for NSW, in 1929 against the All Blacks. This was the year that Australia fielded a fully representative team, so the match did not have Wallaby status.