A jack of all trades
April 29, 2010
Jeff Wilson appeals for a decision while in action for New Zealand's cricket team in 2005 © Getty Images
Born 138 years ago this week, CB Fry was arguably the most talented English sportsman of his, or any other, generation. As a cricketer he played 26 Tests for England as well as representing Sussex, Hampshire and Oxford University. In Associtaion Football he played one international for England, against Ireland in 1901, and started at fullback for Southampton in the 1902 FA Cup final.
In 1892 he set the world record for the long jump, at 23 ft. 5in., a mark which stood for 21 years. His rugby career was reportedly hampered by injury, but he still found time to play for Blackheath and Oxford as well as pulling on the famous black and white of the Barbarians. With his feats in mind, we take a look back at some other multi-talented rugby stars in our latest Scrum Seven.
Wilson made his first mark in international sport with the New Zealand One Day International cricket side in 1992-93. His promise in cricket did not match his rugby acumen though and after electing to pursue an All Black career he became a legend.
He played 60 Tests for New Zealand between 1993 and 2001, scoring 44 tries to lead their all-time chart for a time before Doug Howlett took over at the summit. His retirement from rugby in 2001 came as he went in search of a Test cap in cricket and while he again forced his way into the Black Caps' limited overs teams in 2005, he could not make the final step.
One of the game's most celebrated players, Williams played 55 Tests for Wales and eight for the Lions on their victorious tours of 1971 and 1974 at fullback. In his youth he had been a promising tennis player, winning a British Junior title at Wimbledon against future British No.1 David Lloyd in 1966. With his third love, medicine, outweighing both sports in his affection, a life as a professional tennis player was not an option, paving the way for his rugby success and also his career as an orthopaedic surgeon.
"I would have chosen tennis before rugby," he said in an interview with the Observer in 2008 when asked to choose between a pro career in either sport. "I'd have done so because tennis is much more lucrative now and much more enticing - and because of the dangers of rugby. It's much more physical than when I played."
JPR Williams shows off his backhand in 1972 © Getty Images
Lyle's ascent to the top of English rugby was a bolt from the blue. A former Washington Redskins trialist in the NFL, Lyle took up rugby to keep fit and soon made the switch from Old Mission Beach Athletic Club to Bath in 1996. A brilliant No.8, his decision to turn down a further offer from the Minnesota Vikings was very much rugby's gain.
He won the Heineken Cup in 1998 and retired following the 2003 Rugby World Cup, having won 45 caps for the USA. "He combines the skills developed in common American sports - football, basketball and soccer - with a blessed disregard for English stuffiness," wrote Sports Illustrated.
In 1929 Owen-Smith made his mark in England with a cricket bat, smashing 129 for South Africa in a Test match at Headingley. Also a champion lightweight boxer, his rugby career took off when he returned to England in 1930 on a Rhodes Scholarship to study medicine at Oxford. He won Blues in cricket and rugby before making his Test debut for England in 1934 against Wales in Cardiff. An attacking fullback, he played 10 Tests in all and also captained England in their three Home Nations matches in 1937 for a clean-sweep.
The oldest Test cricketer, Tindill is also the only man to have represented New Zealand in Test cricket and rugby. A wicket-keeper in cricket, he was a versatile rugby player who could alternate between scrum-half and fly-half.
After winning selection for the All Blacks' 1935-36 tour to the northern hemisphere he struggled to make an impact due to the form of Otago first-five Jack Griffiths. A strong showing against London Counties, in which he slotted two drop-goals, secured his Test bow against England, though. There the All Blacks were swatted aside 13-0 as England's Russian Prince Alex Obolensky made one of the most famous debuts of all time. Tindill's first Test proved to be his last as he was selected for the cricket team in 1937, ending his chances of touring with the All Blacks.
The current Italy coach, Mallett's youth brought success in cricket as well as rugby. Born in Hertfordshire, he won two Springbok caps in 1984 after emigrating with his family to Rhodesia. His time at Cape Town University saw recognition with Western Province, and it was also while a student that he achieved a small measure of notoriety in cricket.
In 1979 he took up a place at Oxford, winning Blues in rugby and cricket, and in a friendly against Somerset took offence to some of the bowling, smashing three sixes in an over. The bowler? One Ian Botham.
Doug Smith played eight times on the wing for Scotland between 1949 and 1953, and once for the 1950 Lions against Australia. A doctor by trade, he won later fame as the manager of the 1971 Lions. It was he who predicted, following an opening tour loss to Queensland, that the tourists would win two Tests, draw one and lose one, and he was right. Smith was also a talented all-round sportsman, having played football for Aberdeen as an amateur and cricket for Aberdeenshire as well as rugby for the Aberdeen Grammar club.