Christmas: Births and Deaths
OPINION: With December 25 just around the corner, Paul Dobson took the time to take at significant events on the day!
In the very first rugby test match there was a player born on Christmas Day. He was Charles William Sherrard, born in London on Christmas Day 1849. He was a forward in the first two tests, against Scotland in 1871 and 1872. He was a soldier, serving in the South African War and ending with the rank of colonel. He died in 1921.
He was not the first-born international player. That was probably Arthur Gibson who was born in Hampshire on 14 July 1844. He died in 1927, one of a few survivors of the 1871 test still alive at the time of the 1923 centenary of William Webb Ellis’s supposed act of inspiration of taking up the ball in his arms and running with it.
Sherrard was not the first to die. The first to die, it seems, was John Macfarlane of Scotland who died in February 1874. He was in the Scottish pack in the first two internationals, 1871 and 1872, and at halfback in the third in 1873. Macfarlane was born in Jamaica, educated in Scotland and more usually a halfback than a forward.
The next to die was William Brown, the Scottish fullback from Glasgow Academicals, killed by a train near his home on 24 March 1875, just 16 days after he had captained Scotland against England. At that match there was a record crowd of 7 000 spectators.
One of the international rugby players born on Christmas Day had a name to commemorate the event – Christmas Davies who was born in Llanelli in 1916. He was better known by his second name – Howard. He played fullback for Wales on either side of World War II. The only other Welsh player to play on both sides of the war was Haydn Tanner.
Two Christmas babies had parents who were subtler – Arthur Noel Finlay of Australia, born in 1903, and Lancelot Andrew Noel Slocock of England, born in 1886, who was killed in France in 1916. Even subtler were Nigel Starmer-Smith’s parents. He was born on Christmas Day in 1944 and had Christopher as his second Christian name.
Sam Strahan, the All Black lock, was also born on Christmas Day 1944. Sadly he and Starmer-Smith did not play in a test against each other.
In 1908 James Davey, a halfback, played for England under LAN Slocock’s captaincy. Davey was also born on Christmas Day – in 1908. Maffer Davey, a Cornishman who played for Redruth, spent several years in the gold mines of the Witwatersrand and captained Transvaal, 1904-06. He returned to Cornwall and won a silver medal for rugby at the 1908 Olympic Games when Cornwall represented Great Britain.
Lock Jan Pickard and wing Donald Cameron were both born on Christmas Day 1927 and did not play against each other either. The only time Cameron played against the Springboks was for Glasgow & Edinburgh 1951, but Pickard, who was in the Springbok touring team, did not play.
Other Springboks born on Christmas Day are Paul Visser (1903), Johnny Bester (1917) and Rampie Stander (1944).
The nearest any other Springboks came to a Christmas birth were Noel Howe-Brown, born in 1884, Cliff Riordan, born in 1885 and Bert Kipling, born in 1903. They were all born on Christmas Eve. Chubb Vigne, born 23 December 1868, Gysie Pienaar (1954) and Piston van Wyk (1943) were also close – 21 December.
Other international players born on Christmas Day were
• Tom Blatherwick of England (1855).
• Bernard Middleton of England (1858).
• George Davies (1875) of Swansea, a centre or fullback, who was knocked out in scoring a try for Wales against Ireland in 1900.
• Harold Wheatley of England (1912). His brother Arthur, also an England forward, was born just before Christmas. The brothers played together for England in 1937 and 1938 and were partners in a haulage firm, A Wheatley & Sons.
• Clive Currie, the All Black fullback (1955). He played in two tests in 1978 till a broken jaw in the match against Wales ended his tour.
• Stuart Roy (1968), the Welsh lock, was at the 1995 World Cup and played his only international as a late replacement against Japan.
• Rowen Shephard (1970), Scotland’s attacking fullback.
• Mark Mapletoft (1971), England’s flyhalf in one test
* Kevin Simms (1964), England at centre, a medical doctor
At the 1999 Rugby World Cup, there was a Namibian flank from Marienthal, Matthys van Rooyen who was born in Luderitz on Christmas Day 1971.
There were no players born on Christmas Day amongst those who played in the November Tests in Europe in 2018, but some who were close. Ryan Matyas of the USA was born on Christmas Eve, and Leonardo Ghiraldini of Italy, Manu Leiataua of Samoa and Latu Talaha were born on Boxing Day. Not quite as close were Leigh Halfpenny of Wales and Paul Alo-Emile of Samoa, who were born on 22 December, Owen Franks of New Zealand, who was born on 23 December, Chris Harris of Scotland (28 December) and Gonzalo Betranou of Argentina (31 December).
There are others in the close advent of Christmas – Peter Samu of Australia and Lood de Jager of South Africa (17th), Dan Lydiate of Wales, Camille Chat of France and Nick Grigg (18th) and Michael Rhodes of England and Campese Ma’afu of Samoa (19th).
There can probably not be a more inconvenient time to die than just as Christmas dinner is served – not that too many people get to choose the timing of their departure.
There are some players who, like Charlie Chaplin, have died on Christmas Day:
• Cecil Davies of Wales, a prop who was an RAF pilot when killed in action in 1941
• Philip Newton of England (1946), who played against Scotland in 1882.
• Thomas Harvey of Ireland (1966), the Anglican Bishop of Cashel who played cricket for the Gentlemen of Ireland
• Henry Morkel of South Africa (1969), one of 10 Springbok Morkels, who was a wing in Australasia in 1921
• Tom Aitcheson of Scotland (1977), a fullback in three Tests in 1929.
• Ernest Harding of England (1980) of the Royal Navy who played against Ireland in 1931.