William Murray Borthwick Laycock
- 215Wallaby Number
Bill Laycock was a tireless country born forward who represented his country on both the rugby field and the battlefield. A strong as an ox lock / back rower, Laycock was not a big man, although he possessed a very solid build, yet he proved capable of great deeds in his rugby. He was an outstanding leader who did not shirk his duties, particularly in the lineout or the ruck. Born in Coonamble, Laycock was sent to the city to board at The King’s School where he played two years in the 1st XV (1913-14), the final year as captain, represented the GPS 1st XV (1914) and won the school’s Honour Cup for rugby. Laycock also played three seasons in the 1st XI and won the Boxing Cup (1914). Eighteen months after leaving King’s Laycock enlisted in the Australian Infantry Force and was posted overseas where he spent almost three years in France with the 106th gun battery.
On his return home in 1919 Laycock moved to the family property north-east of Walcha, perched high on the Great Dividing Range in the New England region of NSW. There he was instrumental in resurrecting rugby union in the town after the war. Walcha won the New England premiership in 1921 and photographs from the period show Bill’s progress from a young, sandy-haired, thickset forward in the early 1920s to a gnarled, bent-nosed veteran and captain of New England in 1930. From Walcha he represented New England at Country Week from 1923-30, and represented Combined NSW Country from 1924-28, the last three years as captain.In 1924, and for the first time since the war, a Combined Country team played in Sydney. Laycock was then picked for the ‘Next XV’ to play New South Wales in a trial ahead of the inbound tour by New Zealand. Unfortunately he missed selection and was considered ‘perhaps unlucky in not catching the eye of the State selectors’. The following year the All Blacks were to set to return for a six-match tour of Australia. While Laycock was named in the Combined Country team for the annual clash with Metropolitan he again missed a spot in the first Test team.
His non-selection proved to be a stroke of luck for two reasons. Firstly, New South Wales were trounced 3-26 and secondly Laycock was subsequently picked in the state’s 2nd XV for the second tour match where the home side stunned the tourists 18-16. As a consequence Laycock was one of an incredible 11 members from that winning 2nd XV team who were promoted to the run-on side for the second test three days later and, despite the short turnaround, distinguished themselves in a narrow 0-4 defeat. Although he did not know it at the time that match was Laycock’s official Test debut after an ARU decision in 1994 elevated the remaining 34 New South Wales matches played against international opposition in the 1920-28 period to Test status (the five 1927/28 Waratahs’ internationals were given Test status in 1986). He was retained for the third Test and deservedly won a spot on the return tour to New Zealand two months later. A year later ‘Huck’ Finlay arrived on the representative scene to form a strong middle row partnership with Charlie Fox however Laycock’s persistence and consistency was rewarded with a fourth and final cap against the All Blacks. He did not participate in the 1927 trials for the Waratah tour to the northern hemisphere nor did he tour New Zealand in 1928 however he enjoyed one last representative match in 1929 when he led a far from disgraced NSW Country to an 8-27 defeat to New Zealand at the Armidale Showground.
Following his retirement from rugby Laycock became bitten by the gold bug. His search for El Dorado took him and his brother Blakie to the Philippines, where Bill met and married an Australian girl. They had only been married a short while when the Japanese arrived and the three Laycocks became civilian prisoners of war. The two brothers caused their captors plenty of trouble and when Blakie made an attempted escape he was gunned down in front of Bill. The Laycocks spent 3 ½ years in Banos Concentration Camp until the end of the war. Back in Australia, Laycock returned to Walcha and took up the pen. Towards the end of his days he was taken to Tamworth to watch Walcha play. Laycock was asked to visit the Walcha dressing rooms and talk to the players as the club’s NSW Waratah representative. Laycock had only taken two steps into the room when he lifted his head and took in the odours of the sweaty socks and jockstraps, vaseline and muddy shower floors. “Ah, the smell,” he said. “Isn’t it wonderful. It’s the best smell I know.” Bill Laycock played four Tests for Australia in a two-year international career.
Laycock won his first Test cap at No.8 in the 2nd Test, 0-4 loss to New Zealand at the Sydney Showground. He moved to the side of the scrum for the 3rd Test, 3-11 defeat, also in Sydney. Laycock joined Jack Ford and Wal Rigney in the back row as New South Wales was humbled 10-36 at Eden Park.
Laycock picked up his final cap after Charlie Fox failed to overcome an ankle injury and became an eleventh hour withdrawal from the 2nd Test, lost 6-11 to New Zealand in Sydney.