Phil (Kearnsey) Kearns and John (The Rattler) Edwards are both former rugby hookers whose sporting careers had significant parallels but even more significant differences. Both attended elite rugby playing high schools (Kearns attended Newington College and Edwards, Shore School) but both failed to win selection in their school’s first fifteen teams. Edwards knew that top grade selection was unlikely when the school principal, who happened to be refereeing a trial game he was playing in, refused to award him a try because, according to him, “hookers are not allowed to score tries.” On graduating from high school the two young men’s paths took radically different directions.
“The Rattler’s” talent was spotted early
Edwards was immediately talent-scouted by the Balgowlah Boozing Brown Wombats and ended up playing in the Metropolitan Sub-District Meldrum Cup competition along with hundreds of Sydney’s oldest, fattest and least fit athletes. The Meldrum Cup is the Sydney rugby equivalent of English soccer “Z Division”. In other words, you can’t get much more lowly. Kearns, however, surprised himself, his parents and his mates by being selected into the Randwick Rugby Club elite colts first grade team. Realizing that he did have some talent for the game, “Kearnsey”, over the next few years, then went on to win selection in Randwick third grade, then second grade and, amazingly, the New South Wales and Australian teams before he managed to win a top-grade sport at his own club! “The Rattler”, on the other hand, was carving out a reputation for himself, as one of the stars for the battling, bruising, Balgowlah Boozing Brown Wombats.
“Subby” hookers adored by their mates… but no-one else
“The Rattler”, better known as “The Rat” to his close mates, developed into one of those hookers who is adored by his team mates but despised by referees, opponents and opponent supporters. Edwards did not look like a hooker. In fact, he didn’t look like any kind of rugby player. Standing at five foot ten, if he stood sideways, he would pretty much disappear. A seventy-kilogram grasshopper was not normally considered ideal selection for front-row forward. Still… what “The Rattler” lacked in physical presence, technical skill and athleticism he made up for with an over-supply of self-belief, anger, rudeness, wiliness, aggression, wit, willingness to bend the rules, creativity, guts and determination.
Fellow Wombats… Cocko, Slug, Dozer, Jonesy (the elder… 43 years old), Turtle, Strawbs (short for strawberry balls), Ulcer, Jonesy (the younger… 19 years old) and the inimitable One-Armed Stew (famed for his bullocking runs but found wanting in fending and ball-handling skills)… hated the half-time vitriolic tongue-lashings that “Rattler” often foisted on his team-mates when he felt that their first-half performance was less than the one hundred percent commitment that he expected, still loved their diminutive rake because they knew that he had more ticker and passion than any two other players twice his size. While his half-time rants were legendary at the Balgowlah club “The Rattler” reserved the best of his violent outburst for opponents, refs and sideline supporters silly enough to say anything against his team. Fisticuffs with spectators were not non-existent spectacles at Wombat games and while it was usually the ferocity and power of Slug or Cocko or one of the Jonesies who ended the matter, few would dispute that it was usually one of the vicious verbal lashing of “The Rat” directed at an opposition supporter that started up the ugliness.
A man of high regard
“Kearnsey” was different in some ways, similar in others. Uncompromising, tough and competitive, Kearns was like Edwards in that regard, but, with his outgoing personality and friendliness Kearns became well-liked by most of his opponents (New Zealander, Sean Fitzpatrick, being a notable exception). Also, unlike Edwards, “Kearnsey” was that new breed of hooker who looked more like an American quarter-back than a front row forward. Over six-foot tall, over one hundred kilograms, muscular, powerful, speedy and athletic… when Kearns took the ball up-field he either went over the top of defenders or carried several with him. Kearns went on to become one of the very few rugby players to star in two successful world cup campaigns. He even cemented his position as one of Australia’s greats by winning selection as Captain of the Wallabies on ten occasions. “Rattler” didn’t. But I don’t think he would have cared particularly.
“Rattler” didn’t have “Kearnsy’s” size, speed, strength or skill but he had lots of other stuff. What “Rattler” had was summed up in the Wombat’s key offensive set play that “The Rat” played the starring role in. “Rattler” would take a tap kick from any place on the field and yell, “Freddy Jones,” to his team mates. He would then run laterally across the field seemingly ready to link up with a big, fast runner coming off him at an angle. Opposition defenders would just stand there to see what was going to happen and “The Rattler” would just continue his crabbing sideways. Eventually, sensing that the opposition were flat-footed (almost in disbelief at the innocuous activity in front of them) “Rattler” would change direction and charge at any gap he could see in the opposition line with all the ferocity he could muster. “The Rat” rarely scored tries with “Freddy Jones” … but it was a rare event that he didn’t win twenty yards and easy second phase maul possession to enable his speedy and big backs to have a crack at the opposition, post-penalty.
A play so bold even a Wallaby wouldn’t attempt it
The “Freddy Jones” play was smug, arrogant, disrespectful to oppositions and borderline silly but it was carried off with such poise and self-belief that it worked a charm much to the delight of Wombat team members and supporters. The more audacious the “Freddy Jones” situation was the more successful was the outcome. ”Rattler” even played “Freddy Jones” from his own goal line… usually with positive dramatic outcomes!
“Kearnsey” was generally well-liked and respected by referees. “Rattler” wasn’t. If opposition supporters were “Rattler’s” most despised enemy, referees were not far above them in his order of revulsion. To “The Rat” the opposition were merely “cats”. Referees were “fucking cats.” Opposition supporters were “piss-weak, fucking cats!”
On one occasion one “fucking cat” awarded the ANZ Bank team a fair try when “The Rattler” (along with every other human being present) had identified several knock-ons, a forward pass and a clear off-side in the lead up play from the bankers. While the rest of the Wombat’s team howled in horror at the whistle-blowers incompetence, “Rattler” calmly and confidently strolled over to the referee and enquired whether he was currently in need of a loan and advised that there were better ways of getting money than sucking up to banks.
A broken arm? Nah. Its just a scratch.
One area where “Kearnsey” and “The Rattler” have a lot on common is in their lack of a sense of self-preservation. Both put the team way ahead of their own needs. “Rattler” used to take disregard for self to a level almost unheard of in sport. On one occasion “Rattler” was so incensed at the performance of his team-mates at the half-time break in a semi-final that he ripped the plaster from his arm (he was not selected for the match because of his broken arm), borrowed some gear and determined that he would start in the second half to show them how it should be done. From the kick-off, “Rattler” hit the ball receiver (a bloke three times his own size) so hard that he re-broke the arm and was immediately forced from the field… though no-one is quite sure whether he was sent off by the referee or forced off by his disability.
Members of the Order of Australia!
On January 26, 2017 both Phil “Kearnsey” Kearns and John “The Rattler” Edwards were made Members of the Order of Australia. Kearns received his honour for services to charity and for services to the game of Rugby Union. The judges were remiss in not recognizing Edwards’ contribution to the game of Rugby Union and seemingly he only received his award for making many of the finest television dramas that have ever been seen in Australia. “Big mistake” as Trump would say.
It’s a shame that “Kearnsey” and “The Rattler” went down such different footballing roads and never got to play against each other. I think “The Rattler” would have kicked “Kearnsey’s” arse!
Many of the recollections here may touch on the apocryphal… but are certainly based on elements of truth. It is certainly true that “Rattler” would have kicked “Kearnsey’s” arse… or at least tried to!