Legendary All Black: Billy Wallace

When William (Billy) Joseph Wallace was growing up in the eighteen-eighties, he and his mates used to kick about a pig’s bladder for sport, and when the stench of rotting flesh got too much they would revert to one of their mother’s loads of laundry, tied up with twine.

Billy was born on the 2nd of August 1878 and he would eventually go on to be one of the most significant utility backs in the early years of the team that would emerge as the All Blacks.

His speed out of the gate, coupled with a relatively low centre of gravity (being a shade under 5 foot 8) earned him the nickname of the ‘Carbine’ after the famed racehorse sired by the great ‘Musket’.

From the age of 19, the local Wellington selectors noticed him as he proceeded to barrel through the mid-field of many local teams as fast as a fully laden and late running freight train, both scoring and setting up point-scoring plays, seemingly at will.

Another string to his bow was his kicking game and he became the default place-set kicker for any goal shot opportunities.

It was a wild and savage time in New Zealand rugby at the turning of the nineteenth century: still growing in its infancy the game was yet to see an internationally recognised test match; with only scant contact with touring sides from New South Wales in 1882 and a British Isles side in 1888. Only New Zealand provincial sides were involved in these home tours and a nationally recognised team which travelled to Australia in 1884, winning all 8 games, also failed to involve a truly representative matchup between nations.

This would all change, however, as the very first New Zealand Rugby team would play its inaugural international test match against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on the 15th of August 1903 in front of 30,000 spectators. New Zealand went on to win by 22 points to 3. Thirteen of these points were scored by Billy Wallace.

Wallace’s exploits during this first tour (scoring 85 points in just nine matches) earned him a place on the very first New Zealand touring side to the northern hemisphere.

Known colloquially as the ‘Originals’ it was during this tour that the team would be dubbed as the All Blacks for the first time.

They would go on to win 34 out of the 35 games played, losing only to Wales in a test match which would go down in the folklore of each respective nation for an infamous episode late in the second half.

Struggling against the fired up Welsh team and needing to manage an awkward scrum formation which resulted in conceding numerous penalties, a decision was finally made by the New Zealand captain Gallaher to ‘not contest’ the feed.

Going into the second half the Welsh were leading 3 nil when a badly kicked ball was scooped up by Wallace in his own half who broke through the opposing line, passed inside to Bob Deans who dove over the try line 15 yards out from the left hand upright.

Conflicting reports tell of this incident with Wallace’s testimony describing a Welsh player re-placing the ball back over the try line before the novice Scottish referee was able to make a call.

Wales went on to win the match 3 nil.

Irrespective of this one blight on an otherwise perfect record, the first touring New Zealand Rugby team returned home as heroes. A legacy had been born which would be built on in the decades and century to come.

Wallace himself scored 27 tries and 74 conversions during the tour with three penalty goals and two drop goals also kicked successfully.

In total he would go on to play in 51 games for the All Blacks, scoring 379 points. This would be a point scoring record which would only be bettered a half-century later by Don Clarke.

Billy would go on to be heavily involved in both the local and national game in various roles.

He would coach and be a great source of support and insight for another young local lad by the name of Mark Nicholls who would become a leading All Black of the nineteen twenties.

Wallace was also given the managerial role for the 1932 All Black tour of Australia which competed for, and won, the first ever series of games between these two nations for the newly prized Bledisloe Cup.

Marrying Jesse Mowatt in 1911, the couple had 3 children; two daughters and a son.

Billy died on the 2nd of March 1972 and was buried at the Karori Cemetery.

 


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