Colin Francis Forbes
Born Brisbane, 16 August 1932
Australia (6 tests)
Colin Francis Forbes’ six international appearances are viewed as disappointing for a player who showed great potential in the early part of his career. A fine, outstanding prop, born and raised in Queensland, Forbes was a top class front rower who was particularly dangerous close to the opponents try line . At his best, Forbes was acclaimed ‘one of the world’s best tight forwards, vigorous, plucky and a man of unremitting endeavour’ . However, injury would bring a quick end to his rugby career at a point at which he was starting to fulfill his great promise.
Forbes’ prodigious talent was not evident during his school years at St Josephs Gregory Terrace. As a student at the prestigious school between 1944 and 1946 the young forward played on six games and never made an appearance for the school’s storied First XV during any of schoolboy career. Nonetheless, his talent was not unrecognized. After leaving school Forbes was snatched up by the powerful Brothers club and whilst still in his teens he made his first grade debut in a competition whose playing ranks were swelled by returning servicemen from the Second World War. While with Brothers, Forbes worked at improving his game and he was eventually rewarded with representative honors for Queensland from in the 1952 season; he was to continue in the Maroon jersey until 1955 . Colin’s brother Leonard Joseph Forbes, who attended Gregory Terrace from 1945-1947, would also play for Brothers and for Queensland alongside Colin . Len was selected for the Australians 1958 tour of New Zealand as a forward, however, although he played a number of midweek games Colin was never afforded the opportunity to play in a Test on the tour .
In an effort to encourage the growth of Rugby Union in the Pacific, Fiji toured Australia in 1952 playing two Tests against the Wallabies. The tour was a great financial success. The flamboyant style of the Fijians attracted big crowds and the tour helped breath life into Rugby Union in Australia with the second Test recording the highest attendance at a Rugby Union match since the advent of World War II . IN recognition of his rapid rise from a schoolboy not considered good enough to play first XV to a fearless international prop forward, Forbes was selected to play for Queensland against Fiji on 19 July 1952 at the Exhibition Ground. Although the home side went down 24 to 17 the match provided plenty of thrills for the crowd and an exciting debut for Forbes in Queensland colours. Team mate Cottrell, said Forbes was a speedy tight forward who was ‘just that little bit tougher than the average good forward’
As the Second World War had put a stop to the 1944 Wallaby tour to South Africa, Australia embarked on a tour of the Rugby powerhouse in 1953. The Springboks had achieved an enviable position in world rugby by beating the All Blacks in nine post-war Tests and winning thirty of their thirty-one matches on their tour to Britain and France. To entice the Wallabies to tour the republic, the South Africa Rugby board generously offered to outfit the Wallabies and pay their travel costs. Forbes was selected for the South African tour and was chosen for his first international touring side in a touring party consisting of twenty players from the previous New Zealand tour . Fellow Queenslanders on the tour were Garth Jones, Gavan Horsley and Tom Sweeney . The players trained in Sydney at Coogee Oval and departed Sydney on 8 June to arrive three days later in Johannesburg. Air travel was still very slow compared to today’s standards.
South African’s reputation was well deserved. The first Test match ended as a five-tries-to-nil defeat for the Wallabies with the huge size and power of the South African team, particularly their forwards, overwhelmed the Wallabies. Forbes unfortunately did not play in the first Test and had to watch the defeat from the sidelines. Impressed by his play in tour matches and the young props tenacity, Forbes was selected to make his Test debut be two weeks after the first test in the match at Cape Town on 5 September 1953, before a crowd of 50,000 . The first half of the match looked to be heading the same way as the first Test with the South African forward play dominating the tourists. However, the Wallabies rallied in the second half. Trailing 11 to 3 at half time, the Wallabies fought back to trail 14 to 13 with four minutes remaining before Garth Jones broke the Springboks defensive line for the Wallabies and ran sixty metres to score under the posts . Jones’ try is remembered as one of the great tries in Test history. The final score was 18 to14 to Australia, ending the Springboks impressive fifteen year winning streak in international test match rugby .
The South Africans were subsequently derided by the national press, hardening their resolve to win the third Test. Once again the South Africans led early but this time the Australians had no reply, going down 18 to 8 – for good measure the South Africans overwhelmed the Australians again in the fourth Test winning 22 to 9 and the series three to one. The Wallabies, however, were not disgraced and received praise from the rugby mad and at times parochial South African press. One journalist reported that the spirit of bold adventure shown by the Wallabies should be applauded especially their bakcliine play and their ‘running rugby’ style . The Australians may not have matched the South Africans or the strong provincial packs but their tight forwards including Forbes, Alan Cameron, Nick Shehadie and Tony Miller performed strongly throughout the tour earning the respect of their opponents and commentators alike . Forbes was commended for his tireless efforts against the world’s best scrummagers .
AS rugby remained and amateur sport during this period of the game’s history and this status was rigorously enforced by Australian officialdom, many of the Australians had quit their jobs to enable them to tour. The financial strain on the players was quite pronounced. During the tour they were given tickets for the test matches by the host Union, which they would sell to members of the general public so as the players had money to share among them for off field expenses. At this time, due to the archaic rules of the sport’s governing body, not even the cost of a taxi to the hospital for treatment to a player injured during play was covered .
In 1954 Forbes representative career blossomed. He was selected for the Australian, Queensland, and Brisbane teams to play against Fiji on their second tour to Australia. The match against Queensland was held at the Brisbane Cricket Ground on 29 May 1954 and resulted in a massive defeat for Queensland 53 to 16 at the hands of the rampant Fijian sides. The Fijians scored eleven tries exposing the weak Queensland defence. Forbes was included in a strong Brisbane side to play Fiji, but they fared little better. Defeated 34 to 9 before a crowd of over 17,000 at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground; Brisbane was forced to play one man short when Tom Maccheroni left the field due to injury. Forbes was also injured during this match and would receive six stitches in his right hand forcing him to withdraw from selection consideration for the first Test against Fiji .
The Fijians were an extremely fit team that outsized the Australians with eleven of their players measuring over six feet. The test matches against Fiji in 1954 were remembered for their incidents and controversy. Recalling the Fijians’ tactics over two year previous, a seamstress was employed to foil the visitors’ predilection for grabbing their opponents jerseys to effect the tackle. In forerunner of today’s modern tailored team kits, the seamstress unpicked the stitches in all the jerseys and altered them to be body-hugging, fitted tops .
The unconventional uniform paid dividends for the home Union with the Australians defeating the Fijians in an ugly first Test 22-19. Despite the success of the Wallabies Forbes’ abilities could not be ignored and he was brought into the front row for the second Test which was snatched, controversially, in the last minutes by the Fijians 18 to 16 at the Sydney Cricket Ground before a crowd of 33,000. The crowd booed the Fijian players during the match and off the field and controversy surrounded a number of refereeing decisions . Despite his rapid rise, injuries and professional, career considerations away from Rugby forced Forbes into an early retirement .
In 1956 Forbes came out of retirement hoping to play in a Test before a home crowd in his home town of Brisbane. He would get his chance after selectors named him as front rower twice more for the 1956 Australian side to meet the visiting South Africans . It was the first tour to Australia by the South Africans for nineteen years and the South Africans employed new, somewhat unconventional methods of training before the lead up to the Tests. Players would stare at footballs to get their mind on the job, take long walks to discuss tactics and would rest two days before the matches. These techniques were unique and quite unorthodox in the 1950s .
Prior to the Tests, Forbes played for Queensland against South Africa. Colin’s brother Len, would play along side him in the match at the Exhibition Ground on 29 May 1956 continuing a long tradition of Gregory Terrace brothers who represented their state in matches together. Queensland lost 47 to 3 and played one man short for 68 minutes after Garth Jones fractured a bone under his right eye and the prevailing laws would not allow a replacement. Forbes, Kevin Ryan and Kerry Larkin would be credited as the best of the forwards in the match .
The first Test was played on 26 May 1956 at the Sydney Cricket Ground before a crowd of 39,000. The game was fast and Australia had chances to beat the South Africans but went down 9 to 0 in an absorbing and tight context. In a frank and impartial admission the South Africans ‘outpaced and outpassed Australia’, according to Australian Rugby Union President Wiley Breckenridge . However, the Australian’s own efforts did not help. According to contemporary press reports the Wallabies ‘bombed’ five certain tries through bad handling and ill timed passing. One of these tries involved Colin Forbes, Alan Cameron and Keith Cross who ‘went over the line with the ball at the toe – only to be recalled for a forward pass’.
Forbes finally achieved his long held dream to play for his country in front of his home town crowd. The robust prop forward ran onto the Brisbane Exhibition ground, just down the road from his former school in the Second Test on 2 June 1956. However, the Walalabies could not lift for the match and suffered a 9-0 loss before a crowd of 20,000. The Australians played in white jerseys with black shorts and green and gold socks so as not to clash with the visitors predominantly green uniform . Stan Baxter reported that it was a ‘dull test’ . Baxter’s sentiments about the second test match echoed those felt around by Rugby fans around the nation with the series labeled a pointless exercise with Australia remaining scoreless in both Tests and the South Africans playing less than entertaining Rugby in comparison with the flamboyant Fijian tourist of two years earlier . Despite the loss, Forbes’ performance was credited with putting ‘starch in the Australian forwards who at times outplayed the Springboks’ .
During the later years of his playing career Forbes showed his dedication and gratitude to his old school despite having never been selected to play in the Fist XV when helped coach the 1955 and 1956 First XV teams at Terrace with Brother Fitzgerald. The 1955 team had a successful season when the finished second in the GPS premiership. Building on this success the 1956 First XV went on to win the GPS Premiership; this was Terrrace’s first GPS premiership since 1929.