Remembering George Nepia

Extracted from ‘Babbled of Green Fields’ by Denzil Batchelor


The New Zealand full-back was nineteen years old, and he was the only man in the side who played every match of the tour [NZ to UK, 1925]. He was only five feet nine inches high, but he was that phenomenon among athletes, a massively built man trained as sharp set as a greyhound. He seemed to be made of mahogany. His legs were new-stripped glistering tree-trunks. His head, set on his short neck which would have buckled a guillotine, was crowned with blue-black hair, brushed back over his scalp. He had the poise of a panther: always on his toes, bent forward to spring to the kill. His eyes were no adjunct to a smile. They were for ever staring unwinkingly to the horizon, in the search for prey: the eyes of a falcon. He tackled with the sound of a thunderclap, and punted low and deep, gaining fifty yards with a wet, heavy ball with contemptuous ease in the teeth of a forward foot-rush. His unique feat was to gather a ball off the toes of a phalanx of forwards and – disdaining to fall on the ball – smash his way with it, generally backwards, through the whole ravening pack. He had played five-eighths for Hawkes Bay, learning to open up the game for his three-quarters. New Zealand only bothered to choose one full-back for their touring side. If they had chosen one half as good as Nepia he would have done the job for them.

About the Author- Denzel Stanley Batchelor was a renowned journalist, writer, playwright and broadcaster who often wrote about sport. Born in Mumbai in 1906, he witnessed first-hand the 1924 touring New Zealand side, for which Nepia played. A contemporary of CB Fry he penned at least 30 books. This extract was taken from ‘Babbled of Green Fields. An Autobiography’.  

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Lest We Forget – George Eric Burroughs Dobbs (England), 17/06/1917


Photo from Author’s collection

George Eric Burroughs Dobbs was born in Co Kilkenny, near Castlecomer where his father Joseph owned a coal mine.  Joseph had married Mary Augusta Harte in Dublin in 1878 and they had seven children, George being the 2nd of four boys.

After early education at St Stephen’s Green School in Dublin, he won a mathematics scholarship to Shrewsbury School, where the sport was association football.  Dobbs was house captain and goalkeeper, but never in the school XI.

From school he went to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, being gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Engineers on 23 March 1904.  Before WW1 he served in Singapore and in Limerick, where he rode with the local hunt.

He developed his rugby skills at Woolwich, playing for them and for the Royal Engineers and the Army.  At club level he had associations with Plymouth Albion and Devonport Albion and, quite surprisingly, with Llanelli, being part of the team that lost 16-3 in front of over 15,000 supporters, to the touring Springboks in 1906.  His forward play earned him two England caps that year, versus Ireland and Wales, but both games were well lost in an era of moderate England performances.

As a full-time soldier he was immediately part of the war effort with the British Expeditionary Force, and fought at the Battle of Mons in August 1914, which was the first engagement of the war for British troops.  His determination in maintaining communications during the retreat earned him the French award of the Legion d’Honneur.  His speciality was with signals, which underwent a rapid change during the war, with physical messages, via foot and via motor cycle despatch, being superseded by radio and telephone, a transition that eventually brought about the formation of the Royal Corps of Signals.


Photo courtesy of Shrewsbury School

For his capabilities and service he was three times Mentioned in Despatches.  He rapidly rose from Lieutenant eventually by 1917 being Lt Colonel and assistant director of signals.

His death came near Poperinge in Belgium on 17 June 1917, which was after the battle of Messines Ridge, but before Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres).  He was prospecting for a new cable trench in the front line when he was hit by a shell.  He died shortly afterwards.

Lt Colonel GEORGE ERIC BURROUGHS DOBBS is buried Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery (Grave Reference: XIII. A. 25).

He is also remembered on the war memorial at Shrewsbury School, and on the Dobbs Family grave in St. Mary’s Castlecomer.

He did not marry.


For more information on the Rugby Football Union’s First World War commemorations visit

For details of the other 26 fallen England players click here.

The World Rugby Museum would like to thank Mike Hagger for researching and writing this article.

Follow the World Rugby Museum on Facebook and Twitter to receive further tributes to the international rugby players who fell in the Great War.

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Lest We Forget – John Edward Raphael (England), 11/06/1917

JOHN EDWARD RAPHAEL cigarette card

John Edward Raphael was born in Belgium and died in Belgium, though this did not prevent him becoming one of England’s most accomplished sportsmen of his day, exemplified by the fact that at Oxford he won 14 Blues across four sports.  This was two more than the legendary C B Fry, who has been described as England’s greatest all-round sportsman.

His father Albert was a stockbroker, whilst his mother Harriette hailed from Pembrokeshire.  John was their only child, and was initially educated at Streatham School near the family home.  He then went on to Merchant Taylors’ and to St John’s, Oxford where he read modern history.  By 1908 he had been called to the bar at Lincolns Inn, and a year later he stood for parliament as the Liberal candidate in Croydon. Though unsuccessful, he did increase his party’s vote to a record level.

Cricket and rugby were his main sports; swimming and water polo his other Blues.  He captained the school XI and, in 1904, Surrey CCC.  For Oxford he remains the only batsman ever to score a double century against Yorkshire.  At rugby from 1905 to 1910 he captained the XV for Old Merchant Taylors (OMT), for whom he played his club rugby, and he went on tour to Argentina in 1910 as captain of what eventually became the British Lions.  He won nine caps for England as a three-quarter, spanning the years 1902-06, including playing against New Zealand during their inaugural tour of 1905-06.

When the war came he was, like so many rugby players, one of the earliest volunteers, first joining the Officer Training Corps, and then being gazetted to the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, and finally to the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, where the 18th Battalion had been raised by his uncle Sir Herbert Raphael, MP for West Derby.  He was wounded on 7 June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, which was a prelude to the much large 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).  He died four days later.


Photo courtesy of St Jude on the Hill

Lieutenant JOHN EDWARD RAPHAEL is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery Poperinghe, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium [Grave XIII. A. 30.].

 He is widely remembered elsewhere, including at Merchant Taylors’ School and by the OMT Society in its War Memorial Clubhouse.  The Society lost 13 of its 1st XV from 1913-14, and two were disabled.

His mother instigated the erection of a memorial plaque (right) at St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb.  Other memorials at Lord’s (MCC), Surrey CCC at The Oval, St John’s College, Oxford University RFC and Lincoln’s Inn also bear his name.

In the year after his death, his mother published his book “Modern Rugby Football”.

He did not marry.


For more information on the Rugby Football Union’s First World War commemorations visit

For details of the other 26 fallen England players click here.

The World Rugby Museum would like to thank Mike Hagger for researching and writing this article.

Follow the World Rugby Museum on Facebook and Twitter to receive further tributes to the international rugby players who fell in the Great War.

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All Blacks at Messines Ridge, 1917

1905 NZ Jersey+Programme

In the attack leading to the capture of the Messines ridge in West Flanders, Belgium, by the Allies between June 7th and 14th 1917, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were to the fore.  By the time the NZ troops were withdrawn after two days on June 9th, the NZEF had suffered around 3,700 casualties of which more than 800 were fatalities.  Included in those figures were the deaths on June 7th of two of the four All Blacks who died that month – James Alexander Steenson (Jim) Baird and George Maurice Victor Sellars.

George Sellars was the older of the two and had a distinguished rugby career up until his departure for France in September 1916.  Born on April 16th 1886 to Edward and Maud Sellars, he was a shipwright by trade and a stalwart member of Ponsonby District rugby football club from 1906.  A very strong front row forward, he played 29 matches for Auckland between 1909 and 1915, toured Australia with the NZ Maoris in 1910 and played for the North Island in 1912.  He won his All Black colours in the 2-man front row against Australia in Wellington on September 6th 1913 in the 1st test of the 3-match series which was won by 30-5.  He then embarked with the All Blacks on their tour of North America where he played in 14 matches including scoring two tries in the 33-0 victory against the University of Santa Clara.  Three days later, he won his 2nd and final cap in the 51-3 rout of the USA at Berkeley on November 15th 1913.

He was not available for the All Black tour of Australia in 1914 but played for Ponsonby and Auckland in 1915.  After his arrival in France as a private in the 1st Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment in March 1917, he served until the battle of Messines in which he was killed on the first day of the battle while carrying a wounded soldier to safety.  Although he was buried, his body was never found and he is commemorated on the Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial in the British Cemetery.

Jim Baird was only 23 when he set off for France in October 1916 as a private in the 1st Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment.  Born in Dunedin on December 17th 1893 to James and Lucinda Baird, he was a machinist by trade and a member of the local Zingari Richmond club.

His senior rugby career, although distinguished, was remarkably short as he only played three first-class matches, all in 1913.  Two of these matches were for Otago and the third was his sole appearance for the All Blacks when he played against Australia on his home ground at Carisbrook, Dunedin in their 2nd test victory by 25-13.  He was a late replacement for Eric Cockroft and is believed to have been chosen despite his inexperience because he was locally based.  Although commonly held to have played centre in this match, both the local papers (Otago Daily Times and Otago Witness) credit him as playing on the right wing.  He was then picked to play in the 3rd test but had to withdraw due to an injured hand.  Illness prevented him playing during the 1914 season and put an end to his rugby career at the highest level.

He served in France from February 1st 1917 up to the opening day of the assault on the Messines ridge on June 7th in which he was mortally wounded.  He died later that day as a result of his wounds in Bailleul, France in the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station.  He is buried in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension in France.


  • Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby – Chester, McMillan & Palenski (Hodder Moa Beckett 1998 – 3rd ed)
  • Fifty Years’ Record of Rugby in Auckland – AJ Billington (Seabrook & Farrell 1933)
  • Haka – The Maori Rugby Story – Winston McCarthy & Bob Howitt (Rugby Press Ltd 1983)
  • Last Post – Rugby’s Wartime Roll Call – Ron Palenski (NZ Sports Hall of Fame 2011)
  • Ponsonby Rugby Club – Passion and Pride – Paul Neazor (Celebrity Books 1999)
  • The Pride of Southern Rebels – Sean O’Hagan (Pilgrims South Press Ltd 1981)
  • They came to conquer – Howell, Xie, Neazor & Wilkes (Focus Publishing Ltd 2003)

About the Author- A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport.  He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.

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How the 1950 British and Irish Lions prepared for their trip to New Zealand

2005-141 Ground view of figurines on board

A Lions tour involves vast amounts of preparation and a numerous tactical discussions.  Ahead of this year’s tour in New Zealand, let’s take a look at how things were done nearly seventy years ago.

This tactics board (pictured above) was handmade by HMS Fisgard Artificer Apprentices in 1950 and was used on the 1950 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia.  The remarkably detailed set includes fifteen miniature Lions and fifteen miniature All Blacks, as well as posts, corner flags and even a referee.  The board would have been used to develop tactics on the long voyage by sea to Australia and New Zealand. Although as you can see from the photos below, the touring party found other ways to occupy themselves as well!

It is not quite clear why the apprentices made the board, although there are several ways in which its production may have been instigated.  Lewis Jones, one of the 1950 Lions was based at HMS Fisgard and Malcolm Thomas (another Lion) was based nearby at HMS Raleigh.  Captain Morrell was in charge at Fisgard and was a keen rugby man who had played for the Navy rugby team.

The HMS Fisgard Artificer Apprentices presented the board to the RFU after the tour.  The donation was probably instigated the Surgeon Captain ‘Ginger’ Osborne, manager of the 1950 Tour, whose collected papers of the tour are part of the World Rugby Museum’s collection.

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A Man of Firsts: Lloyd McDermott

This week we celebrate the 55th anniversary of Lloyd McDermott’s international debut for the Wallabies.  This was a profound occasion for Australian rugby, with McDermott becoming the first Indigenous Australian to represent the country in international rugby. Since then, he has worked tirelessly for equality and greater representation of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders through his legal work and an Indigenous rugby programme.

ARU 2012 Statesman Announcement

Lloyd McDermott © Getty Images

Lloyd Clive McDermott was born on 11th November 1939 in Eidsvold, a remote town in North Queensland.  He demonstrated great sporting prowess from a young age, gaining him a scholarship to Brisbane’s Church of England Grammar School, affectionately dubbed ‘Churchie’.  At school, he excelled at athletics, winning the open 100 yards and 220 yards sprints in 1957, making him the fastest schoolboy runner in the Great Public Schools Sports Association of Queensland.  His speed and strength made him an ideal fit for rugby, being selected in the Churchie’s First XV from 1955-1957.

Upon completion of high school, McDermott was offered a place at the University of Queensland to study law.  His academic prowess matched his skill on the pitch, with McDermott’s athletic ability catching the eye of the university rugby club, who soon recruited him as a wing.  Proving himself a impressive member of the squad, the Queensland state team would also recruit McDermott against the touring Fiji team in 1961.

After just three games for Queensland, Lloyd McDermott was selected to represent Australia internationally, becoming the first Aboriginal Australian to play for the Wallabies.  The wing would play two games against New Zealand – the first at the Exhibition Ground in Brisbane on May 26th 1962 and the second at the Sydney Cricket Ground on June 4th that same year.  Regardless of both games ending in All Black victory, the matches proved to be a positive step forward for Australian rugby and Indigenous Australians.

These would be the only international rugby games that Lloyd McDermott would play.

Proud of his Aboriginal heritage, McDermott would take a stand for cultural equality in 1962 by removing himself from upcoming Wallabies tour selection.  This decision was based upon Australia’s impending tour to Apartheid-governed South Africa in 1963. McDermott refused to tour South Africa as an ‘honorary white’ and thus continued to play rugby union at club level for the rest of the season instead.  This signaled the end of his short but significant international rugby career.  A temporary switch to rugby league saw McDermott join the Wynnum Manly club in the Brisbane Rugby League competition, but after just one season and a move to Canberra, Lloyd McDermott’s playing career ended entirely.

Lloyd McDermott has since blazed a trail for Indigenous Australians in numerous ways. In 1972, he became the first Indigenous Australian to become a barrister-at-law and was subsequently appointed the first assessor to support the Federal Court of Australia on Aboriginal land title claims.  Over many decades, Lloyd McDermott has continued to have a profound impact in seeking equality and representation for Indigenous Australians within the wider community; and he has used his passion for rugby to assist this cause.

By 1991, there had been just a handful of international caps awarded to Indigenous Australians.  Just McDermott, the three Ella brothers, and Lloyd Walker were recipients of international caps.  This spurred McDermott and group of passionate rugby-ites to push forward with an initiative to grow Aboriginal participation in rugby: The Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team.

Grassroots Rugby.jpg

The next generation: The Ella brothers – Gary, Glen and Mark © Getty Images

Focusing on students in years 10, 11 and 12, the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team began by running training camps on an annual basis.  The Team aimed to combine sport and education, and chose Lloyd McDermott as their namesake for his ability to successfully mix athletics and academics throughout his life.  Since its inception, the Team has assisted in creating many educational opportunities for its participants, by supporting young Indigenous people in undertaking educational scholarships and facilitating leadership courses.

Evolving into a much larger phenomenon, the Team subsequently introduced youth sevens rugby programmes, national men’s and women’s teams, a development camp for schoolgirls in Alice Springs, men’s international touring teams and a local club in Redfern for disadvantaged U8s and U12s – the Eora Warriors.

The Ella’s 7s programme is another great success of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team.  Named after the famed Ella brothers – Gary, Glen and Mark – who represented the Wallabies in the 1980s, the tournament is the preeminent event for Indigenous Sevens Rugby, taking place in Coffs Harbour, Cairns and Brisbane annually.

 ”I see the involvement of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sons and daughters in Rugby Union as an investment in their futures and an avenue to develop leaders of tomorrow…Rugby Union is serious about investing in the game and is making a clear statement about the investment in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.’’                                                          – Lloyd McDermott, ARU Reconciliation Action Plan 2013-2014

The positive influence of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team can also be seen in their work with the Australian Rugby Union in 2011 to develop an Indigenous Rugby Strategy.  The awareness of the Australian Rugby Union to acknowledge reconciliation was further formalised in the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), published in 2013.  The aim of the RAP is “to engage Indigenous Australians with opportunities to enhance their lives through a lifelong association with Rugby Union… (and to) create genuine opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians that will assist in “Closing the Gap”.”  Now delivering their second RAP, the ARU have continued to work with the Team to remove barriers and provide opportunities for Indigenous Australians through rugby.

Lloyd McDermott has successfully demonstrated the many ways in which rugby can enrich people’s lives and has assisted in providing invaluable opportunities for young adults through the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team.  From being the first Aboriginal Australian to play for the Wallabies, to his work with the Team, Lloyd McDermott is responsible for many positive steps forward for Australian rugby.

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Lest We Forget – Lt. John George Will (Scotland), 25 March 1917

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On 25th March 2017 The Old Merchant Taylor Society and Old Merchant Taylor Football Club gathered in the Memorial Garden at the School to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of John G. Will who was killed in an air battle over Arras, France, on 25th March 1917 at the age of 24.

He joined the Old Merchant Taylors’ School in 1905 and quickly established himself as one of the leading sportsmen of his generation.  He excelled in athletics and won many titles.  He was also a member of the School cricket 1st XI and a member of the rugby 1st XV.  On leaving school he went to Cambridge University where he gained 3 blues at rugby and also 7 caps for Scotland (between 1905 and 1911).  He also has the distinction of playing in the last Calcutta Cup match before the outbreak of war in 1914.  He was described as a fly-half and winger with an electrifying turn of speed earning himself the nickname “the Flying Scotsman”.

On our arrival at the OMT Society War Memorial Club House, OMT Society President Philip Newfield made some welcoming remarks on behalf of OMT Society.  A poppy was then pinned by Gavin Lubczanski (OMTFC 1st XV) onto its Memorial Board, beside John Will’s name.

Before the OMT 1st XV match against Hitchin started, a wreath was laid on the pitch by Dick Clack (OMTFC) and a minute’s silence was observed followed by the playing of the Last Post by Thomas Boyle (MTS pupil).

OMT Society President Philip Newfield said in his remarks at The OMT Society Memorial Boards, we not only honoured John Will’s memory, but also remembered all the other OMTs named on them who fell before their time in the Great War.

“Lest We Forget”

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About the Author – Raymond Harrison was a pupil at Old Merchant Taylor between 1953 and 1957.

Article published by kind permission of OMT Society, OMTFC, and Merchant Taylors’ School.

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