Lumen - The University of Adelaide Magazine The University of Adelaide Australia
Lumen Winter 2007 Issue
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Red letter day for Blacks

South Australia's oldest rugby club is celebrating a major milestone this year.

The Adelaide University Rugby Union Football Club turns 75 years old on 14 July, and plans to celebrate in style.

The University Blacks have an outstanding record by anyone's standard, winning numerous premierships and producing around 1800 players, including some players who have gone on to represent their State and the nation. The club has also provided an all-important sporting outlet for many students and staff, balancing out their academic pursuits with challenges both mental and physical on the rugby pitch.

One person who knows well the joys of university rugby is Professor John Carver. Professor Carver, now head of the University of Adelaide's School of Chemistry & Physics, played rugby union as a student at the University in the 1970s. Decades later he has returned as a player, and has also taken on the presidency of the club.

He began playing rugby during high school at St Peter's College in Adelaide in 1970.

"My father had played rugby because he was brought up in Sydney, so I thought I'd give that a go," he says. "I liked it immediately. I really enjoyed running with the ball, and beating the man-it was a great sensation.

"It's an incredibly complex and yet subtle game. You don't appreciate that when you're really young, but I've been playing on and off ever since-for more than 30 years-and there are so many different nuances, and opportunities, and options during a game, that you can always question what you did and what you didn't do. That's one of the great joys about rugby-you're always looking to do better next time."

Throughout his academic career, rugby has been an important outlet for Professor Carver. He played during high school, during his undergraduate days at Adelaide, while he was studying for his PhD at the Australian National University, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the universities of Oxford and then Adelaide. When he took up an academic position at the University of Wollongong he continued to play rugby for some years, eventually giving up the game in 1991 because of family and work commitments.

It appeared that his rugby-playing days were over, until he took the professorship at his alma mater, the University of Adelaide, in 2004, and attended a game as a spectator the next year. Realising that the second-grade side was short of players, he volunteered to play the following weekend, and has been playing for the club ever since.

Returning to the club has helped Professor Carver to achieve a goal that eluded him as a student at Adelaide-playing in a premiership-winning team. The club won the second-grade premiership in 2005, the same year he returned as a player and became president of the club.

"That was a huge thrill," he says of the win.

It goes without saying that Professor Carver is also thrilled to be celebrating 75 years of the University Blacks.

"We're the oldest rugby club in South Australia, and we're the only original club that's left," he says.

"We've become a much stronger club over the last five years than we have been in recent times-both in terms of the administration and the on-field performance--and that's a credit to a core group of people who've shown great commitment to the club.

"For the first time in many years we're running three senior men's teams this year, and we have a good influx of new players, which is very encouraging."■


The Adelaide University Rugby Union Football Club is having a Gala Day at Waite Oval and a Black Tie Dinner at the Lirra Lirra Café, Waite Campus, on Saturday 14 July.

For the 75th birthday, the club is hoping to bring together as many current and past players and supporters of the club as possible.

Entry to the Gala Day is free and bookings for the Black Tie Dinner can be made by contacting Bob Dwyer on 0417 801 591.

75 years of rugby at Adelaide

  • Established on 14 July 1932, the Adelaide University Rugby Union Football Club is the oldest rugby union club in South Australia and the only surviving foundation club in the State.
  • The University Blacks' first game was on 16 July 1932 against the Royal Australian Navy Reserve--it was a 15-all draw.
  • Two University Blacks players--Henry E.W. Lyons and P. Darcy O'Connor--joined the Australian Universities team to tour Japan in 1934.
  • The club won its first Premier Grade premiership in 1934.
  • From 1933-1939, the club reached the Premier Grade grand final every year except for one year and the Reserve Grade grand final on three of four occasions, winning twice. The club also won the Navy Cup five times in its first seven years and came second twice.
  • The 1950s and 1960s were the strongest years for the club, with large numbers of players represented on State teams.
  • University player Malcolm van Gelder was selected as an Australian Wallaby in 1958 for a tour of New Zealand.
  • In 1964, 1965 and 1966, the club won an impressive three back-to-back Premier Grade premierships and three consecutive A.F. Nielsen Memorial Trophies in the same years.

Professor John Carver (centre) in the thick of the action as Adelaide Uni’s Division 3 side takes on Old Collegians at the Waite Oval.

Professor John Carver (centre) in the thick of the action as Adelaide Uni's Division 3 side takes on Old Collegians at the Waite Oval.

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The Intervarsity team of 1933.

The Intervarsity team of 1933.

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