Hare-brained nickname had Wallaby pioneers on the hop

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 October, 2008, 12:00am
 

Just imagine - the All Blacks v the Rabbits.

It does not roll off the tongue as nicely as the Wallabies. But this is what might have been if 100 years ago, the Australian team that sailed for England hadn't foiled plans by the devious English media to nickname them the 'Rabbits'.

According to the Australian Rugby Union, Stirling Mortlock and his men owe a huge debt of gratitude to the class of 1908 for throwing a spanner in the works of the UK press who were hell-bent on labelling them as bunnies.

'In 1908, the Australian squad sailed for England without a moniker. But when they discovered that the UK media wanted to call them the Rabbits, the players hastily held a meeting to kick around more suitable titles,' says the ARU website.

'They took a vote on names such as the Wallaroos, Emus, Waratahs and Wallabies. The latter won the poll and the name that is synonymous today with the Australian team was born,' says Matt McIlraith, the 2008 Wallabies media manager.

The Wallabies of 1908 went on to prove they were not willing to be transfixed in the glare of all the publicity by winning the Olympic gold medal at the London Games.

Last Sunday marked the 100-year anniversary since the first Wallabies created history - downing Cornwall, who were representing Great Britain, 32-3 in the Olympic final.

Initially three teams entered, but when France withdrew, it all boiled down to one match to decide the gold - and the Wallabies prevailed in style. So much for Rabbits.

One day after the centenary of that historic result, the 2008 Wallabies left on the Centenary Tour to mark those first pioneers who went to the UK and North America.

Mortlock and his men have it easy, needing to play only six games. Their predecessors spent nine months abroad and played 38 matches on the first tour to the northern hemisphere.

Luckily for them they had a nickname they could live up to.

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