Robert Louis Challoner was born in 1872 in Wellesbourne near Stratford upon Avon to a Scottish father and a Swiss mother. Although he was given the same forenames as the famous Scottish writer, R.L. Stevenson, it is unlikely that he was named after him as the latter only came to prominence in the late 1870s and 1880s.
He attended Warwick School where he played for the school first XV for five seasons from 1886/87 to 1890/91 and captained the side in both 1888/89 and 1890/91. While at school he was a strong running three quarter of ‘pace and strength’ who was able to break tackles. He was also a good place and drop kicker and was a good defender. He was described as a ‘tower of strength in the team’ and one who ‘could be a first rate man when older.’ Challoner also played for Warwick’s cricket first XI for four seasons and won the Challenge Cup for athletics.
Soon after leaving school he joined Moseley and was soon turning out for the club’s second team. While at Moseley Challoner moved from the three quarters and began to play in the forwards. Towards the end of the 1891/92 season he was given a chance in the first XV and he played in the second round tie of the Midland Counties Challenge Cup against Coventry Excelsior which Moseley won by eight tries to nil. He seems to have made a favourable impression as he kept his place for the third round victory over Burton and for the semi-final win against Old Edwardians. He also played in the final in which Moseley were defeated by Coventry.
By the following season Challoner’s talents were being appreciated outside the Moseley club and in October 1892 he was selected, along with four club colleagues, to represent the Midland Counties against Cheshire. The Midland Counties again selected him in November when the side played Surrey at Coventry. Later in the month he played twice more for Midland Counties, against Kent at Blackheath and against Middlesex at Richmond.
Also in November 1892 Challoner kicked one conversion in a match in which Moseley defeated Rugby by the remarkable score of 13 goals and three tries to nil. In the following month Moseley again inflicted a heavy defeat on Midland rivals, this time defeating Nottingham by three goals and six tries to nil, three of the tries being scored by Challoner.
In January 1893 the strong Newport club visited The Reddings and won easily by a score of three goals, one dropped goal and three tries to one try. The Moseley try was scored by Challoner a few minutes from time and was greeted with ‘great cheering’.
Although Challoner was usually a forward he sometimes also appeared as a three-quarter and try scoring seems to have been something of a speciality. In March 1893 he scored two of Moseley’s 11 tries in a Midland Counties Challenge Cup victory over Leicester Crusaders.
Midland Counties again selected Challoner for the victory over Cheshire, at Rugby, in October 1893. He seems to have had a quiet game as he was not mentioned in the newspaper reports of the match and he was not selected for Midland Counties’ next fixture against Western Counties. Interestingly the match was divided into four quarters rather than the normal two halves because of the windy conditions.
Despite having already played a number of games for the Midland Counties Challoner was, in October 1894, selected for the Whites in ‘a preliminary trial match, arranged with the object of affording promising players in the Midland Counties an opportunity of displaying their form.’
Challoner obviously took his chance because he was one of six Moseley players who played for the Midland Counties in their defeat at the hands of Western Counties, at Exeter, in the following month. Despite the defeat he retained his place for the Counties’ next three fixtures, a defeat by Middlesex being followed by victories over Kent and Surrey.
In March 1895 Moseley reached the semi final of the Midland Counties Challenge Cup and were drawn at home to Leicester, who had already beaten them twice during the season. Early in the match one of the Leicester forwards fractured his collar bone and in a remarkably sporting gesture considering this was a cup semi final Moseley withdrew Challoner from most of the scrums to even up the contest! In the event Moseley still won the game and progressed to the final. In the final, in which Moseley defeated Coventry, Challoner once more played as forward.
During the first part of the 1895/96 season R.L. Challoner as well as playing in his normal position among the forwards also appeared at half back for Moseley, however, in the victory over Old Edwardians, in November 1895, the Birmingham Daily Post commented ‘Challoner made many glaring mistakes in neglecting his backs until his careless passing was useless, if nothing worse.’
R.L. Challoner made a second appearance in the final of the Midland Counties Challenge Cup in April 1897 when Moseley defeated Old Edwardians 12-5 at the Aston Villa ground in Perry Barr, a fortnight before the club took up residence at Villa Park.
In October 1897 Challoner once more caught the eye of the Midland Counties selectors when he was chosen, along with nine club colleagues, for the county trial match at The Reddings.
He obviously impressed in this trial match as he was selected for the Midland Counties’ match with Middlesex in the following month when he played in a dominant pack which laid the foundations for a home win. Challoner retained his place for the Counties’ next game against Kent at Blackheath although in the event he did not play in the match
Despite his absence from the Kent match the Midland Counties once more selected Challoner for their December 1897 match with East Midlands at Northampton. The Counties side were victorious in this fixture, which gave them first place in the southeastern group of the County Championship.
This victory qualified the Midland Counties for a play-off with the winners of the southwestern group, Devon, to decide who would meet Northumberland in the County Championship final. The game was played at Plymouth in February 1898 and Challoner was again selected for the visiting team who won the match. This was, however, his final appearance for the Midland Counties, as he was not chosen for the final, at Coventry, which was won by Northumberland.
He played his last game for Moseley on 6th April 1898 when the club were defeated by Leicester in the final of the Midland Counties Challenge Cup. During his time at The Reddings Challoner served, for two seasons, as vice captain to Alfred Rogers, the brother of Moseley’s first international J.H. Rogers.
This may have been the end of his Moseley career, however, it was not the end of Challoner’s playing career. He had decided to emigrate to Australia and in May 1898 he sailed from London on board the ‘Peninsular’ bound for Sydney where he arrived on 18th June.
Following his arrival in Australia it is unclear whether or not Bob Challoner, as he was known Down Under, played any rugby during 1898 as there was no mention of him in the Australian newspapers of the time.
His first representative match seems to have been in May 1899 when he turned out for the Central Western R.F.U. against the Western R.F.U. in a team that according to a local newspaper ‘had a big surplus of avoirdupois’ when compared to their opponents. Central Western were defeated by a goal to nil but the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal noted that ‘Challoner… played in great form.’
The fact that Challoner was representing the Central Western R.F.U. would seem to indicate that he had settled somewhere in the Orange district which is about 100 miles west of Sydney.
One of the New South Wales provincial selectors had been present at the above match and Challoner seems to have impressed him, as he would have been selected for the side to play Queensland in Sydney if he had been able to play. He was also unavailable for selection for the second match of the series a week later.
Challoner finally made his New South Wales debut in July 1899 when his team travelled north to play in the 39th inter-colonial match against Queensland in Brisbane. As a player from outside the metropolitan area Bob Challoner seems to have been relatively unknown and as a result the Queensland newspapers listed him as ‘C. Challoner.’
The match was played in front of about 5,000 spectators many of whom ‘were ladies, who, attired in their pretty winter costumes, lent an additional charm to the gathering.’ The visitors won the game by 11 points (1 goal, 2 tries) to five (1 goal), their third victory over Queensland that season. Challoner seems to have had a quiet debut for New South Wales as he received only one brief mention in the match reports.
On the Wednesday following his New South Wales debut Bob Challoner again played for the colony in a drawn match with the Next Fifteen of Queensland. During the course of the game he made a run down the field but fatally slowed to look for support and was tackled close to the Queensland line without scoring. Challoner’s name was still causing much confusion-one local newspaper listed him as ‘Challinger.’
Challoner then played in the following Saturday’s 40th inter-colonial match, also in Brisbane, which was won by the home side by 12 points (3 tries, 1 penalty goal) to 3 (1 try). The report of the match noted that Challoner had taken part in a rush down the field and had shown some good line out play. Having got his name wrong in previous reports the local newspaper once again changed Challoner’s name, on this occasion, referring to him as ‘C. Challinor.’
On the back of this brief and uneventful representative career R.L. Challoner was selected for the Australian national side to play the touring British Isles team in the second test match of the series.
In order to save costs Challoner was one of only six New South Wales players invited to represent Australia in this game in Queensland, a move that outraged the game’s followers in Sydney.
Opposing Challoner in the British pack was G.V. Evers, of Moseley, who was also making his international debut. Evers went on to play in the three remaining tests of the series but interestingly was never capped by England.
The match, only Australia’s second international encounter, took place at the Exhibition Ground, Brisbane on 22nd July 1899. Conditions were near perfect and the 10,000 crowd included the governor of Queensland.
The touring side won the fixture by a goal and two tries (11 points) to nil to level the series. The local newspapers reported that ‘the game was a fine exposition of Rugby and at times some magnificent play was shown’ and also noted that Challoner was one of the Australian players who ‘did excellent work.’
This match was the pinnacle of Bob Challoner’s rugby career, as he was not selected again to play for Australia. Following the British victory in this second test the visitors went on to win the final two games to take the series 3-1.
Strangely the Australian Rugby Year Book in their list of Australian internationals in the 1970s still listed Bob Challoner as ‘C. Challoner.’
Exactly a week after his test appearance R.L. Challoner once more faced the British tourists on this occasion representing New South Wales in a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground. As in the previous week’s test match G.V. Evers was one of the British forwards.
It was estimated that a crowd of 20,000 people including the governor of New South Wales witnessed the match. The result was a win for the tourists by a goal and two penalty goals (11 points) to a goal (5 points). This victory was the tourists’ second against New South Wales during the tour.
Bob Challoner’s first representative engagement of 1900 was another appearance for the Central Western Union in the victory over the Western Union in June when ‘he showed fine form.’ He again turned out for Central Western during July’s ‘Country Week’ in Sydney when the various branches of the New South Wales Rugby Union played a series of matches.
Later in July 1900 Challoner was once more selected to play for New South Wales in that season’s first match against Queensland in Sydney. The home side came from behind to win the encounter by 11 points (1 goal, 2 tries) to 10 (2 goals).
The next game of the series took place a week later again in Sydney and once more Bob Challoner was in the home side. The conditions for the fixture were far from ideal parts of the ground being under water and the Sydney Morning Herald described the encounter as ‘more mud-larking than football.’ Despite the poor weather the match was an exciting one that was won by New South Wales by 11 points (1 goal, 2 tries) to 9 points (1 goal, 1 goal from a mark).
It was then back to district rugby for Bob Challoner and an appearance in the season’s second match between Central Western and Western. This was his final representative appearance of the 1900 season as he was not selected for the New South Wales v. Queensland matches that were played in Brisbane in September.
By the start of the 1901 season Bob Challoner seems to have moved to Sydney, as he was now a member of the Eastern Suburbs club. He was not selected for either of 1901’s inter-state matches in Sydney but did make the journey north, in August, for the return fixtures in Brisbane.
One possible explanation for his non appearance in 1900’s Brisbane matches or the 1901 Sydney games may be that he was not in top form and re-appeared for the Brisbane games because New South Wales’s strongest side was touring New Zealand at the time and so the selection for the inter-colonial fixtures was something of a second string side. In fact of the side in the first Brisbane fixture only one had represented New South Wales in the Sydney matches.
The two inter-state matches in Queensland were played at the Exhibition Ground, Brisbane. In the first game the under strength New South Wales side was well beaten by 25 points (2 goals, 5 tries) to 11 (1 goal, 1 penalty goal, 1 try). Towards the end of the game Bob Challoner was prominent during a ‘rush’ down the field.
On the Wednesday following this game New South Wales, including Challoner, played a Brisbane combination that they defeated by 21 points to 13.
A week after the first inter-state match Bob Challoner made what was to be his final appearance against Queensland in the second fixture at the Exhibition Ground. The conditions for the match were wet but this did not stop the Royal Artillery band from playing ‘acceptable selections at intervals.’
During the match Challoner made a good dribble out of defence but his side were defeated by 15 points (1 penalty goal, 4 tries) to 6 (2 tries). Despite the conditions the Sydney Morning Herald still considered the game to have been ‘a capital exposition of Rugby football.’
Challoner made his final appearance for New South Wales in the state’s final match in Queensland in 1901 when, two days after the defeat by Queensland, the southern colony defeated a Toowoomba side by 34 points to six.
Little is known about Bob Challoner’s life after the end of his rugby career, it is not even known when or where he died. The only reference to him in the Australian newspapers was in 1937 when the Sydney Morning Herald made a passing reference to him in a feature about great players from Western New South Wales.
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