Bring it home: Incredible piece of Australian rugby history that RA should fight to secure

A historic Wallabies jersey from the first northern hemisphere tour in 1908 – that has spent most of the past 50 years folded up in a wardrobe in Wales – will go up for auction on Thursday, but looks like being an opportunity missed for Rugby Australia.

The great-grandchildren of former Wales and Newport rugby player Charlie Pritchard are auctioning off some of Pritchard’s impressive collection, which includes All Blacks’ (1905) and Springboks'(1906) jerseys from their first northern tours, as well as a 1904 New South Wales jersey.

The auction (see the full list of items here) is open for pre-bids and then will be held online at 8.30pm Thursday (AEDT), and the 1908 Wallabies jersey is the only one to have already attracted a bid (4600 GBP or $A8800) at time of writing.

The piece would have been a perfect fit for the Rugby Australia Museum announced out of the blue by Hamish McLennan in mid 2021 but now seemingly on the back burner.

“Rugby Australia is delighted to confirm plans to launch a new Australian Rugby Museum, following support from private enterprise,” a media statement said at the time.

“The Museum is set to house priceless items of Australian Rugby’s history as well as hail iconic moments in the game’s past.

“It will be a celebration of the game in Australia across every level with items from club rugby competitions as well as relics from Australia’s first-ever national side, including pieces dating back to the late 19th century when Rugby was introduced Down Under.”

The then RA chairman revealed David Harrison, the Managing Director of property investment fund Charter Hall, would be charged with getting a museum operational in time for the 2027 Rugby World Cup down under as the museum’s board chair.

The Roar understands Harrison became too busy to commit to the project, while an RA spokesman said a museum remains possible in the future but low on the current priority list.

Three original Test jerseys are up for auction. Photo: Supplied.

Charlie Pritchard collected the jerseys during his playing days then used them for charity matches before he passed away in 1916. They have stayed in the family and, after being in the Twickenham museum, for the past seven years are now being sold.

“My great grandfather played for Wales, between 1904 and 1910 and was captain of Newport,” descendent John Pritchard told The Roar.

“He played in the back row. It was a golden age of Welsh rugby and it was also around the time when a lot of the Southern Hemisphere teams were doing their inaugural tours.

“So you’ve got the All Blacks original tour 1905 when they came to the UK and played 36 games.
The Wales team that they played against won 3-0. He got a first first Springboks tour shirt and a first Wallabies tour shirt as well.

John Pritchard (left) and his brother Gareth. Photo: supplied.

“They’ve been handed down through the family. They got to me and my brother. Unfortunately, the generation below us have got absolutely no interest whatsoever. And the fear is that they would just end up being put away again. These shirts are 115-120 years old.

“We are actually big rugby and Wales fans. We’ve kept the Wales shirts and Newport shirts – the actual ones he wore and it feels the time is right now.

“When you’ve got such interesting shirts, there’s a lot more value in them being held by ideally museums but more in the public face where they can be appreciated rather than stored in a wardrobe or in danger. You could have a house fire and the whole thing goes up.”

John said it was not known who the Wallabies jersey belonged to – but it is a No.8, which was also the position played by the captain of that first tour, Paddy Moran.

Australian rugby players during a game against Devon in 1908. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

He added that the jerseys were all in great condition.

“Clearly you’re gonna get fading over time, but there’s very few that have got any tears and then there’s some quite nice intricate embroidery on some of the badges,” he said.

“Largely, they’ve been just kept in my dad’s wardrobe for about 40 years of his life. We got them out about seven to eight years ago took them to Twickenham and they put them out on display.

“So the Australian one has been out quite a lot. I was speaking with the curator there and it’s the only one he’s seen. In terms of Australian shirts they usually have duplicates but not that one.”

He was taken aback by the size of the jerseys.

“They’re really tiny – people back then were a lot smaller. You kind of look at this shirt and think a No.8? I’m not a big chap but I’d be struggling to fit in it.

“It’s almost like an 18 year old’s chest size, not a fully grown beefed up person.”

Charlie Pritchard did not play against Australia on the extensive tour, where 35 matches were scheduled.

He was selected to play for Monmouthshire against the Aussies in October 1908, but the game was cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch.

According to notes from the auctioneers, Rogers Jones, “as a Monmouthshire jersey is not present in the Charlie Pritchard collection, it is possible, perhaps likely, that Pritchard sought out an Australia jersey after the announcement that the match was not to be played.”

Original Wallabies jersey. Photo: Supplied.

The jersey is pale blue with a white collar and three buttons and bears and embroidered Waratah, along with the addition of the distinction ”Australia’” to the NSW shirt.

In 1908 Australia had no official colours and the tour was organised by NSW, hence the pale blue jerseys. Paddy Moran was credited with giving them the Wallabies name after the British press had decided to call the tourists “The Rabbits”.

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