30 October 1959
Australia (6 Tests)
Queensland (66 Matches)
Mark McBain made a significant and on-going contribution to Queensland and Australian Rugby union during his long association with the game. A determined, fiery, and hard working hooker during his playing days, McBain played six tests for his nation and was a member of the star-studded Queensland squads during the 1980s that helped place the state at the forefront of international provincial Rugby. His contribution to the Reds did not end with his playing days. In 2001 he took over from his former coach John Connolly as Queensland mentor in the Super 12 and guided the Reds to one of the most memorable comebacks in the competition’s history. Since that time he has continued to coach at a various levels to impart his vast knowledge of the game to players of all levels.
As a schoolboy forward, McBain was a crucial element in beginning what became known as the Golden Years of St Josephs Gregory Terrace Rugby Union. McBain attended the school for his entire secondary schooling and during his final year played eight games for the First XV who won the first of what was to become a streak of 5 straight GPS Rugby Union premierships. During his schoolboy day’s he developed an affinity for hard work that lead to him becoming a highly competitive and mobile player.
Upon leaving school McBain was yet another former Terrace player to graduate to the ranks of the highly successful Brothers Rugby Union Club. Here McBain was given an introduction into senior Rugby that would hold him in good stead for his playing career. Throughout the early years of his club playing days McBain’s performances were enough to see him elevated to the first grade side and to be a player considered for representative Rugby; but this was a period of sustained Queensland brilliance. Author and Historian Bret Harris refers to the Queensland teams that took to the Rugby field between 1976 and 1981 as “the Marauding Maroons”. Under legendary coach Bob Templeton and led by players such as Mark Loane, Paul McLean, Stan Pilecki, and Geoff Shaw Queensland became the premier Rugby province in Australia and exerted a superiority in matches against visiting teams from around the world – such was their ability the Reds won 60 of the 78 matches they played during this era.
Despite the seeming impenetrable Queensland line-up the “zealous, gutsy, and bearded little hooker” continued to press his claims and recognising his potential, McBain was chosen for the end of 1980 season tour to New Zealand with the Reds. The tour carried extra interest in New Zealand as earlier in the year Queensland achieved the historic feat of beating the All Blacks 9-3 while the New Zealanders were in Australia for a test series. McBain was not selected for any of the matches granted full provincial status on this tour, but his experiences gave him an indication of how close he was to playing for the full Reds side. His perseverance was eventually rewarded. At the conclusion of the 1981 season McBain was named to make his provincial debut as hooker in place of the veteran Chris Carberry for the match against Italy – the rampant Queenslanders won 68-11. McBain went on to play a number of games for the Reds over the course of the next two years and helped the Queenslanders maintain their new found place as a stronger of the two provincial sides in Australian rugby.
The play of the sleight, but highly mobile hooker caught the eye of the Australian selectors and McBain was named in the squad for the Wallabies end of season tour in 1983 to Italy and France. It was in the Wallabies first ever full test match against the Italians, that McBain was to ironically make his Wallabies debut. That day at Rovigo in northern Italy, Australia went on a five try flurry to secure victory by an impressive 29-7 - McBain’s international career seemed to underway successfully; however the next match proved seminal in his career.
Named as hooker in the Wallabies next test against France, McBain’s pugnacious and fiery attitude proved well founded as his fiery approach and physical play saw him irritate the traditionally tough French pack; particularly French skipper Jean-Pierre Rives. The French side’s retaliation was swift. When a scrum was packed during the first half a boot to head knocked the young hooker unconscious and he was then set upon by several French players who also kicked him in the head. McBain was rushed from the field in a grave condition. The violence of the attack and the ensuing damage it did to McBain saw eminent Australian Rugby Historian Jack Pollard describe the incident as “a disgrace to international rugby”. Showing his toughness, McBain checked himself out of hospital the next day; but when he remarked that he could taste something sweet in the back of his throat, team mate and Doctor Tony Parker ordered him back to the hospital. Resulting tests showed brain fluid was leaking into the back of his throat. The severity of the McBain’s injuries meant that he had to remain in France to receive treatment three months after his Wallaby team mates had returned home.
Although McBain was to regain his health and return to the playing field, this incident provided an opportunity for fellow Queensland hooker Tom Lawton to make his international debut and began a duel that lasted for the remainder of McBain’s playing career. Even though the two hookers were from the same state, their playing styles could not have been any more different. Lawton was a physically bigger hooker whose size and strength provided the pack with the equivalent of third front row forward and extra bulk around the field. McBain although slighter than Lawton provide a tremendous work ethic and increased mobility for the pack allowing a more expansive game. Ironically, coaches and selectors around Australia could not agree. At provincial level Bob Templeton preferred Mark McBain for the 1984 season ahead of Lawton because of what he considered McBain’s superior work ethic and mobility. At the national level however, Lawton was the preferred Australian hooker, going on to play 40 test matches and even captain the Wallabies in several tour matches and mid week games.
Despite this set back, McBain remained a strong contender for the Wallabies’ hooker spot and he was always the Australian reserve even though Lawton was never able to unearth his state colleague from the Reds side. McBain was selected to tour with the legendary 1984 Wallabies Grand Slam team, but did not play a test. As evidence of the high regard he was held in through the Australian Rugby community he was selected in an Australian Barbarians team to play a New Zealand Barbarians combination at the start of 1985 season; again he met with foul play. McBain was felled in back play and there were more concerns about his health following this match.
Showing his commitment to the sport and his intent on regaining his test spot, McBain continued his battle with Tom Lawton throughout the 1985 representative season, with Lawton winning the first two home test caps available that year. Again McBain’s tenacity was rewarded. Nearly two years and 14 test matches since his infamous incident with the French, McBain was named as the Wallaby hooker for the second test against Fiji on 17th August 1985. This was to be one of McBain’s rare appearances in the run-on side for the Wallabies in test match rugby – however his achievement should not be underestimated. After being carried from the field and nearly dying in France, McBain’s courage to regain the Wallabies number 2 jersey earned him respect among peers, commentators, and fans alike.
By this time McBain had cemented himself as among the two best hookers in Australian Rugby and this saw him regularly named to Wallaby touring teams. This status saw him named in the Wallabies squad for the inaugural World Cup of Rugby in 1987. This allowed him to make a rare appearance for the Wallabies in the tournaments qualifying rounds against Japan. His mobility was highly prized during the wide open 42-12 win by the Australians – but unfortunately the Wallabies could not secure victory in the tournament and had to watch the All Blacks become the first side hold aloft the William Webb Ellis trophy as official Rugby Union World Champions. McBain’s place in the Wallabies team remained assured though and he even showed his mobility and versatility during the ill-fated 1987 Wallaby tour of Argentina when even played as a flanker in a midweek match.
Tom Lawton remained the preferred Wallabies hooker throughout the 1988 season and McBain had to settle for playing with Queensland in the newly formed South Pacific Rugby Championship. He did get an opportunity as a replacement in 1989 during the first test against the visiting British and Irish Lions – a match the Australians won 31-12 in the first rugby test ever played at the Sydney Football Stadium. Once again McBain’s combative nature meant he was involved in an altercation; this time with opposite number Brian Moore of the Lions. McBain did not make another appearance in the series as the Wallabies went on to surrender their early advantage and lose the series 2-1.
Again McBain was named in the Wallabies’ squad for the 1990 tour of New Zealand. Although he did not make an appearance in any of the three test matches on tour he was a regular and important member of the Australian mid-week teams that featured a host of inexperienced, yet talented young players who were to become important to Australian rugby in the coming years. Players such as Ewen McKenzie, Tim Gavin, Villiame (Willie) Ofahenague, and Rod McCall were also regulars in these mid week matches and their experiences in these tough mid-week matches were to steel them for a range of future tests. McBain finished the 1990 season after suffering concussion in Brother’s failed attempt to prevent University from winning successive Brisbane club premierships – and he chose to retire from the game the following year. When asked to describe his playing philosophy, McBain stated that he always played his rugby hard giving his all and felt pride that at the end of every game he was “absolutely stuffed.”
After his playing career ended, McBain devoted himself to coaching. He took time to coach his former school’s First XV and was also the A-Grade coach for the University Club in the QRU’s Premier Rugby competition. McBain’s success in these roles saw him named to succeed his former state and club coach John Connolly as the Red’s coach for the 2001 season. When he took the helm of the side, McBain promised the Reds would return to the running, free flowing rugby that had made them such an indomitable force in southern hemisphere provincial Rugby during the 1980s and 1990s. His move had immediate success as the Reds defeated Wellington in their opening Super 12 match of the season. However, the jump from part time club coach to full time provincial coach was initially difficult and the Reds’ 2001 campaign began to stutter after a number of error strewn, but close losses. However, in what became one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of the Super 12 competition the Reds’ resurrected their season through a display of “spirit” to qualify for the finals. Despite winning their last 5 games in a row the Reds’ could not overcome the ACT Brumbies in the semi-final as the newest Australian Rugby province went on to defeat the Sharks from South Africa in the final.
McBain returned to the helm of the Reds for the 2002 season and was hoping to improve on his first year’s showing as coach. Although the season promised much with the addition of prized Rugby League recruit Wendell Sailor and the continued development of a number of younger players, the absence of the team’s long time leader John Eales and the inexperienced back line meant that Reds could not repeat the previous years miraculous season and missed out on the finals despite recording seven wins and only four losses for the season. Constant media speculation throughout the season was also destabilizing to the team. Despite just missing out on the finals series in 2002 and losing to the eventual champion Brumbies in 2001 McBain was replaced as Queensland coach by former his former team mate Jeff Miller for the 2003 season.
Although he was no longer the Queensland coach, McBain found himself in demand elsewhere and continued to give of his time to help foster the development of players in Queensland and abroad. The former Reds coach spent time in 2003 coaching in Japan and also found time later in the year to assist with a number of junior sides. McBain’s departure from the Red’s job saw a succession of coaches to take on the role unsuccessfully; including Jeff Miller, Andrew Slack, and Eddie Jones. McBain meanwhile, took on the coaching job at Easts in the Brisbane Premier League competition and found time to again lead the Terrace First XV in the GPS competition. At the conclusion of the 2006 Premier club rugby season McBain finally announced his retirement from coaching marking the official end to his personal association with the game that had begun in 1968. McBain was hoping to spend more time with his son, Matthew a budding, elite level golfer.
In an involvement that spanned nearly forty years Mark McBain reached the pinnacle of Australian Rugby Union. As a member of the Reds and the Wallabies McBain proved himself to be a tough, resourceful, and respected opponent who belied what many perceived to be too sleight a frame to play as a hooker in top level Rugby. Following the end of his playing career McBain took to coaching. His success with the University of Queensland side saw him appointed the Reds’ coaching position and his 2001 side remains the last Reds team to qualify for the finals of the Super 12/14 competition. Throughout this period, McBain has still managed to contribute to his former college as coach of First XV and to a range of other junior clubs throughout Queensland.