The first Moseley player to tour with a British Isles side was J.F. ‘Fred’ Byrne who visited South Africa in 1896 under the captaincy of Johnny Hammond. The tourists were not truly representative of the four Home Countries and in fact there were no Scots or Welsh players at all and therefore they were known variously as the Anglo-Irish, English or British team during their time in South Africa.
This British team was full of characters such as Walter Carey, the Oxford University forward who later became bishop of Bloemfontein and coined the Barbarians’ motto that ‘rugby is a game for gentlemen of all classes, but never for a bad sportsman in any class.’
Also in the party was Larry Q. Bulger, the Irish wing, who rejoiced in the nickname of ‘Fat Cupid’! There were also three future recipients of awards for gallantry. Tommy Crean and Robert Johnston both forwards from the Wanderers in Dublin were awarded Victoria Crosses during the Boer War while Rev. Mark Mullineux, the Blackheath half-back, received the Military Medal in the Great War.
The first game, against Cape Town Clubs, took place at Newlands in front of 6,000 spectators. The tourists won 14-0 thanks largely to two penalties and a conversion from Fred Byrne. There then followed a victory over Suburban Clubs and a nil-nil draw with Western Province. The next series of matches saw the British team defeat Griqualand West (twice), Port Elizabeth and Eastern Province.
During these early games the tourists discovered that their backs were inferior in quality to many of the home players. To help counter this deficiency Fred Byrne who was renowned as the Moseley and England full back and as a great tackler was played at centre in the First Test at Port Elizabeth where he could indulge his instinct for attack.
The experiment was partially successful in that the tourists won the test 8-0, however, this was largely due to their forwards. The victors scored two tries, one of which Byrne converted.
There were then eight relatively easy victories including two against Transvaal before the Second Test at Johannesburg. Fred Byrne was again selected at centre and although the British side triumphed 17-8 the match was hard fought and the only real difference between the sides was Byrne’s place-kicking (two conversions). This was the first occasion on which South Africa scored any points in an international match.
There was only one game, a victory over Cape Colony, before the Third Test, at Kimberley. This game was played on a hard ground and the South Africans made history by leading at half time. The tourists scraped home thanks to a late conversion and a drop goal in the final seconds both landed by Fred Byrne, who was again at centre.
A victory over Western Province then followed before the Fourth Test in Cape Town. This final test saw South Africa’s first ever triumph in an international by the score of 5-0. It was also the first occasion on which the home side played in their famous green jerseys these being adopted from captain Barrie Heatlie’s Diocesan club.
There was also controversy. Immediately prior to the South African try the ball had been snatched from centre Fred Byrne’s hands in what the tourists maintained was an illegal manner and indeed the following day’s Cape Times agreed but the score stood and the home side was victorious. It was also alleged that the try scorer Alf Larard had played professional rugby in the north of England and so should not have been selected.
Fred Byrne played in all 21 matches on tour and scored 127 points, which remained a record for a tour of South Africa until New Zealander Don Clarke beat it in 1960.
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