Christopher Bernard Handy (Buddha)
Born Brisbane, 28 March 1950
Australia - 6 Tests
Christopher Bernard Handy, affectionately known as ‘Buddha’, has made a tremendous and ongoing contribution to the game of rugby in Australia as a broadcaster, public speaker, personality and player. Athletic and broad shouldered, Handy was a talented front row forward who represented both Queensland and Australia during a period in which Australian Rugby sunk to the depths, but was to rebound. He played in key matches at state and international levels in the 1970s and was part of the Queensland team that became a premier world rugby province. Internationally, Handy was part of Australia’s retrieval of the Bledisloe Cup from New Zealand after a sustained ‘drought’ and he helped establish Australia as one of the top rugby nations.
The fifth son of a Brisbane dentist, Handy began playing rugby aged nine at St Josephs Gregory Terrace . He played half back until he was 17 and thoroughly enjoyed the position, captaining the First XV in his final year at school . Handy transferred to the forwards in his final year at Terrace, where he ‘gained a reputation for his brilliant cover defence from the number eight position’ among fellow Terrace mates, Tony Shaw and Bruce Cooke.
Handy joined the Brothers Club after high school and an increase in weight took him into the front row with David Dunworth, Mike Freney and Rod Keller. In 1969 Handy would be part of the premiership winning Colts team and captain the Queensland under-19s. He earned the nick-name ‘Buddha’ on the Australian Colts trip to Japan in 1972 as he enjoyed playing cards and sitting cross legged on his bed in the hotel room, clothed in a kimono. The sobriquet Buddha stuck.
Elevated to the A-Grade side in 1971 the young prop forward was given and opportunity to continue his evolution from a half back to a powerful and dominant prop forward. Brothers was just the club to help him achieve this aim. The club’s sustained excellence in Brisbane club rugby had made them famous and they went on to secure victory in the 1971 Grand Final against Easts in a tough contest. Recognising his talent selectors named Handy in a Barbarians side to play the Junior All Blacks in 1972 to see if he was ready for the step up to international competition.
Handy was well liked by his fellow rugby mates. Always happy, a lively singer and joke-teller and great company on long bus trips. Handy felt that the front-row ‘epitomised contact sport’ and in his book Well I’ll be Ruggered! he describes himself as
a no holds-barred, boots-and-all footballer, who loved the contest, the competition, the physicality of the game, who happily accepted the pain of it. It was my drug. Scrummaging in a rugby Test was getting the ultimate high in the most brutal way – without the need to pop pills .
His skills and passion for the contest saw Handy become an integral part of the renaissance of Queensland rugby from 1972 to 1980 . The Queensland team at the time was replete with very talented players. They were a core group who grew up together and stayed together. Brett Harris in Marauding Maroons believes this is the reason Queensland emerged as ‘the world’s premier rugby province. Mark Loane, Paul McLean, Tony Shaw, Stan Pilecki, Chris Handy, Andrew Slack, Rod Hauser, David Hillhouse and Paddy Batch were the heart and soul of Queensland Rugby’ during the period and this coincidence of skilled and dedicated players was crucial to the rise of Queensland Rugby.
Handy, however, had to wait for national recognition at senior level. He made his debut for Queensland in 1972 but was not selected for a Test until the tour to New Zealand in 1978 . This waiting period in the Queensland squad provided Handy with matches against international teams such as Wales, Tonga and England and strong provincial sides such as North Auckland and Wellington when the visited Australia and played Queensland.
On 3 July 1973 Queensland met Tonga in a heated clash at Ballymore. The conditions were wet and slippery but the Queenslanders won 18 to 10 . Handy would suffer a broken ankle in this match beginning a long relationship with his orthopaedic surgeon. Dr Fergus Wilson used pinning techniques that allowed Handy to recover fromt eh physicality he so loved and yet still continue his rugby career . Handy was plagued by broken bones during his career. He would break a different bone in the same ankle playing touch football on the beach in 1974 and would break his hand while on a Wallaby tour in 1978. The rugged prop was sidelined for most of the 1981 season due to a broken foot, limiting his international opportunities
Handy’s international debut came against the All Blacks on the 1978 tour of New Zealand, with his Terrace school mate Tony Shaw leading the side as Australian captain . Handy, as the fourth front-rower selected for the tour was happy to be a ‘dirt tracker’ or ‘Wednesday boy’, throughout the journey to New Zealand as a Wallaby . However, Australia lost the first two Tests and was beset with injury and the near-fatal heart attack of coach Haberecht on the eve of the final Test. Handy, to date, had been the team’s lucky omen, playing in all seven winning tour games and was chosen to play in the final Test. In the match against Hawkes Bay, Handy had broken his hand hitting Robbie Stuart, who, he said, was giving Garrick Fay a lot of trouble. Not wanting to miss his chance to make a long awaited test debut, Handy strapped the hand, after consulting a veterinary surgeon for confirmation of the break, and put up with the pain throughout the remainder of the tour. He knew he would be sent home if it was discovered to be broken. At 28 years of age, he was not going to miss his international debut. The night of before his debut Test, Handy described himself as a ‘nervous wreck’. He treated his nerves with a bottle of Kahlua and milk and, therefore, had a great night’s sleep.
The next day Ross Turnbull called the forwards together without the backs and said;
Look, these Phantom comic-swappers and Mintie-eaters, these blond-headed flyweights are one thing, and we will need them after the hard work’s done. But the real stuff’s got to be done right here by you blokes .
Standing arm in arm with his team mates, singing the national anthem was one of the highlights of Handy’s career, underlining to him the importance of bonding to the success of test football teams .
In the lead up to the match Handy was given the task of ‘attending to’ All Black giant Andy Haden. He did as he was told and received double measure of hits, punches and pulls from the rugged Haden . According to Handy, any reputation he has as a hitman is incorrect, as this test showed he believed himself to be the beltee not the belter . The Wallabies ran away with the Test defeating the All Blacks 30 to 16, the highest score on record against them in international Rugby. It was the upset of the decade. Despite doctor’s orders to the contratrary Coach Haberecht watched the match in hospital and was elated to see the Wallabies shake off the “Awful Aussie” tagged bestowed upon them earlier in the tour .
The 1978 the Queensland side toured Japan, Canada and the USA in the Australian off season. Showing their class the Reds won all but one of its matches on this tour against a variety of opposition that included some very good international sides. The 1979 Queensland side repeated the excellent performance of the previous year winning 10 games and drawing one during the domestic representative season. They beat NSW in an exciting match at Ballymore 48-10, completing six consecutive wins over the Blues and ensuring that any memories of Queensland Rugby’s period in the doldrums was erased. The team drew with New Zealand Maori, the only match the Maoris would not win on their tour to Australia . Chris Handy became an important part of the rise of and success of the Queensland side in the late seventies and his tenacity to finally a claim a test jumper at 28 and willingness to play through pain set an example that many of his team mates would follow .
On 28 July 1979, Australia played a one-off Bledisloe Cup Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was only the third one-off Test played against New Zealand; the others in 1931 and 1967. This match is viewed as a turning point in the popularity of the Bledisloe Cup in Australia and is commonly held as the beginning of the Wallabies’ ascent to one of the top test-playing nations in the world . Terrace mates, Handy and Shaw played in a team stacked with Queenslanders. Only two New South Welshmen would play against the All Blacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground in this pivotal game pointing to the importance Queensland played in the revitalisation of Australian Rugby . Australian Coach, Dave Brockhoff needed tough forwards to hold the All Blacks and the two ‘hard-rocks’ of Handy and Peter Horton, ‘who did not back down no matter the situation’ were chosen in the front row . Geoff Shaw later recalled how committed the forwards were especially the way ‘Buddha Handy was climbing into them. . . it was a huge confidence booster for the backs to look ahead and see these guys on top’ of the previously dominant All Black pack . The Wallabies defeated the All Blacks 12 - 6 in a struggle where no tries were scored. In the process the Wallabies regained the Cup for the first time since 1949 and the first time on Australian soil since 1934. The 45 year drought was broken The trophy was no longer the property of the All Blacks and the Wallabies ran a victory lap of the Sydney Cricket Ground .
As a reward for his play against the New Zealanders, Handy was then selected for the Wallaby tour to Argentina in 1979. It was the first time the Wallabies had toured South America and the trip was not without its problems on and off the field. The trip to the South American nation would take over 40 hours and almost result in gaol due to a ‘borrowed’ Argentine flag by some of the Wallabies. The Pumas fierce scrummaging took the Australians by surprise in the first Test, with he Pumas winning 24-13. In the second Test the Wallabies realised they needed to drastically improve their scrummaging to have any chance . Handy, Bill Ross and Stan Pilecki formulated a plan of attack. They would pack so closely that their heads would form in effect a triple head butt . Handy recalled,
Looking back, I think the moment we realised we had started to achieve our task was when we packed the scrum and the opposition hooker’s mouthguard fell into the middle of the tunnel between us, with two of his teeth embedded in it. It was probably one of the most sensational, satisfying, exhilarating moments I have experienced .
Despite this new tactic the Australian’s could not reverse the result from the first test match and the Argentines went on to record a 17-12 victory and secure a 2-0 series win.
The All Blacks toured Australian again in 1980 seeking revenge for the loss of the Bledisloe Cup and Handy would again face up against All Black, Andy Haden. Unlike the previous years’ one-off series, the 1980 battle for the Bledisloe Cup was to be a full three match series that would test the Australian’s skill, resolve, and depth. In the second Test, the confrontation with Haden would leave Handy with a serious gash to the forehead and, although his head was bandaged, blood would flow down his face for the remainder of the match. Photographs of the bloodied Queenslander would grace the pages of the Sydney papers the next day and reinforce the brutal reputation of rugby. Sadly, the second Test would be Handy’s farewell to international rugby . Handy, Pilecki, Ross and McLean were dropped for the third Test and Handy felt that his was a harsh decision, saying “I had played 13 games for Australia before I played in a losing side and I felt I still had something left to offer. I took over the pub at Rocklea the next year and effectively I wasn’t able to train’ .
The Wallabies won the series two to one and skipper Tony Shaw would once again hoist the Bledisloe Cup before a capacity crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground . Despite not playing in the third Test, Handy was a part of the Wallabies who had won the Cup two years in succession, ushering in a new era of competitive Test rugby for the Wallabies.
Although it would be his last international, Handy would continue to play for Queensland and be a part of the history making Reds side that defeated the All Blacks in 1980. The Maroons beat the All Blacks 9-3 at Ballymore and would go on to win 10 of their 13 matches that season . Another broken ankle playing for Queensland ‘B’ forced Handy onto the sidelines for most of the 1981 season. Work commitments and a young family made it difficult for Handy to train and he satisfied his love of rugby by playing and coaching at Brothers in the lower grades .
Handy’s off field personality was appreciated and put to good use as a rugby commentator on television in the years after his retirement. His gregarious nature, down to earth manner and expert rugby knowledge made him one of Australia’s most popular rugby presenters, coining popular phrases such as ‘go, you good thing’ and ‘over’. Handy believed that if his playing days were over, there could be no better job in life than being a rugby commentator .
A glowing tribute was paid to Handy by team-mate Peter Horton,
He is one of the most physically and mentally committed forwards to have played for Australia. Essentially Chris played till he broke . . . Chris was also a gifted footballer, amazingly agile and deft with the ball in his hands and always a tremendous team man off the track, a great rugby-networker, host and a true-blue Australian .
Chris Handy played six Tests for Australia and 54 games for Queensland between 1972 and 1980. A talented, aggressive and charismatic player, he never gave in to frontrow pressure from the other side . Renowned for his drinking, after-match antics and story telling, Handy was a true front rower of the same breed as fellow Terrace school boy Bob McMaster . Despite retiring from the playing field over 25 years ago remains well known nationally and internationally for his stellar on field play and entertaining, thoughtful, and passionate views on the game off field and from the commentary box.