The long and rich history of Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Football Club

Friday, 7 June 2013

One Cap Wonders

In English cricket they have a special club whose members are all test cricketers, but won only one cap for England. This club of one-cap wonders is full of great players with hard luck stories about how they failed to win more caps, honest county toilers who just weren’t up to the level but found themselves in the right place at the right time, and the odd character who makes you think ‘How the hell did he ever play for England?’ And so it is with Rugby League. In a recent issue of Rugby League Journal Harry Edgar published the full list of one-cap Great Britain international players. (For those who don’t know, RLJ is the nostalgia soaked magazine that Edgar started up after he sold Open Rugby to League Express). I say “one cap”, although apparently the RFL don’t actually award a cap until a player has played at least two tests. Quite why that is, we’d have to ask them. In a long list of the famous and not-so-famous names, there are many with a Featherstone connection.

Strange as it may seem, local legend Vince Farrah won only one cap, and that towards the end of his career against Australia when he was with Hull. It’s difficult to imagine why he wasn’t picked more often. Former first team coach Gary H Price is another example. Having toured in 1990 without playing a test, his solitary GB cap was against the Papua New Guinea tourists of 1991. More obscurely, two former Rovers assistant coaches are also there; Kenny Loxton, capped in 1971, and Peter Small, capped in 1962.

Ex-scrum-half Mark Aston also won one cap. Needless to say, it wasn’t during his short stint with us. Inevitably among the 90 odd players there are some real head-scratchers, including a few I readily admit I’d never heard of. Most puzzling for me were those mediocre Union converts of the late 80s, who all seemed to win a single cap under Mal Reilly. Do you remember the glorious careers of David Bishop, Gerald Cordle, Kevin Ellis, Jonathon Griffiths, Mark Jones and Rowland Phillips? Modest performers at club level, they seemed to benefit from the higher media profile afforded to

Don Fox, one cap wonder
The one-cap club however has two fully paid up Featherstone Rovers members, and there can be no doubt that they were both cracking players. Don Fox had enjoyed a fine career as Rovers’ scrum-half, but when Great Britain were battered 50-12 by Australia to lose the Ashes in 1963 Fox was drafted into the side at loose-forward. He was to be one of seven debutants as Britain were going through a transitional phase. Players the calibre of Vince Karalius, Eric Ashton and Mick Sullivan had been dropped never to return. These were the days when Britain didn’t really expect to lose at home to Australia, and this third test ‘dead’ rubber turned into a violent grudge match, most unfortunate for a skilful ball-player such as Fox, who was hoping to showcase himself. Fox had previously played for Great Britain v France in a game before France was granted full international status (in 1957), and had toured with the 1962 Lions without being capped. At scrum-half and captain that day for Britain was none other than old Rovers’ favourite Tommy Smales, another local lad who had to leave Post Office Road when he couldn’t oust Don Fox from the first team. Now here they were, side by side for Great Britain. Despite the punch ups, Fox had a good game, scored a try and kicked two goals. For the selectors however it wasn’t enough to ever merit re-selection.

Chris Bibb, one cap wonder
When Great Britain toured New Zealand in 1990 many ‘star’ names decided to stay at home.  Incumbent GB full-back Steve Hampson was one of those to drop out, and in came Chris Bibb after a hugely successful domestic season, to join club-mates Deryck Fox and Ian Smales. The tour started with Alan Tait as test fullback, but by the time of the first test v New Zealand at Palmerston North, Bibb got his chance in the number one shirt. Deryck Fox was on the bench, and in the Kiwi side was future Rover Mark Nixon. Britain won a tight game 11-10 without Bibb really getting an opportunity to shine. Joe Lydon was preferred for the remaining two tests, and despite some more wonderful displays, Bibb’s chance had gone, never to return.

Certainly both these players deserved greater representative recognition than one solitary cap, but can look back with pride that they played for their country at the highest level, an achievement that eludes the vast majority of players.

ex-RU internationals.

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