One of the best-known players in Moseley’s history is J.F. ‘Fred’ Byrne, the England fullback and captain who was also a member of the 1896 British team that toured South Africa. What is not so well known is that Fred was one of several Byrne brothers who played for the club and that one of these siblings F.A. ‘Frank’ Byrne was also an England international.
Unlike his illustrious elder brother Frank only won one international cap, against Wales, at Newport, in 1897. Frank was chosen at centre and also in the side that day, at fullback, was brother Fred. Partnering Frank in the centre was a future Moseley team mate, E.M. Baker, who was then a member of the Oxford University club.
In a quest for fast open play Wales had introduced heavier forwards, the theory being that scrums could be held firm thus allowing the half backs and three-quarters to run and handle in the maximum amount of time and space. The plan was never executed better than in this match and Wales achieved her first decisive victory over England by a score of 11-0 (one goal and two tries to nil). The match was played on a Rodney Parade ground that shortly after kick-off was several inches deep in mud and throughout the game a raw wind blew and brought with it rain, hail and snow. The play of the Welsh backs in such conditions must have been a sight worth seeing. The Times certainly thought that Wales’s play had gone according to plan and commented that the Welsh backs ‘simply outclassed those of England.’ Due to deficiencies in the English three-quarters’ defending Fred Byrne, at fullback, had ‘much severe work’ and he acquitted himself well. In the three-quarter line itself ‘Pearson seemed always able to outwit Frank Byrne, opposite whom he played’ and ‘Frank Byrne neither made nor was given any opportunity.’
Following this defeat the England selectors made changes for the next match against Ireland. Fred Byrne retained his place at fullback but one of the casualties, not surprisingly given his performance against Wales, was brother Frank who thus joined the ranks of the ‘one cap wonders.’ Interestingly, one of the replacements for Frank Byrne and E.M. Baker at centre was another future Moseley player, W.M. Bunting who was then playing for Richmond.
This game was the final international appearance of Wales’s captain and the game’s first superstar, Arthur Gould, and following his retirement the Welsh rugby public contributed to a testimonial fund which enabled him to obtain the title deeds of a house. The other home unions viewed this as an act of professionalism and Wales was ostracised from the international game for twelve months.
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